Jury selection is set to start Nov. 24 in Michael Dally's murder trial, a judge ruled Friday, dismissing pleas for a lengthy delay from the defense.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones said he sees no reason to delay the jury selection, despite defense attorney James Farley's request for a postponement, possibly until January. Farley argued that widespread media coverage of the case has made it difficult for Dally to find an unbiased jury.
"There's been an awful lot of publicity about my client, and I'm sure there's going to be more," he said, saying he would prefer to see the coverage "die down" before the trial begins.
Dally is charged, along with his former lover and co-defendant Diana Haun, with the kidnapping and murder of his wife, Sherri Dally. Their trials were separated, and Haun was convicted last month.
During Haun's trial, both prosecutors and defense lawyers attacked Dally's character, including testimony that he had hired prostitutes and used drugs.
Dally appeared in court for the first time in weeks, a few pounds heavier from his time in jail. Hair cropped neatly and wearing a regulation blue jumpsuit with handcuffs and ankle shackles, he smiled and laughed with Farley and co-counsel Robert Schwartz before the hearing began.
After Jones entered the courtroom, his demeanor turned more serious and remained so throughout the proceedings.
The second phase of Haun's trial, in which jurors will be asked whether she should receive the death penalty, is set to begin Oct. 20. Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth said she wants Dally's case to begin "as soon as possible" after the conclusion of Haun's trial.
The judge decided to bus Haun's jury in from Santa Barbara, rather than move the trial to another venue because of all the publicity.
Jones said Friday that he does not anticipate any changes in that procedure for Dally's trial.
Although Farley said he does not want to file for a change of venue, he said he is researching the amount of publicity in the Haun trial, including radio and TV coverage and "hits" on newspaper Web sites to determine how much coverage was devoted to the case in Santa Barbara County.
But Jones questioned the need for any additional changes, saying he had no evidence that Santa Barbara jurors could not serve again. Jones said he monitored news coverage in that county, and "frankly, didn't see anything startling."
If a move for change of venue is filed, it can be discussed with other pretrial motions on Nov. 24, Jones said, adding he is not inclined to grant any further delays.
"I'm not going to be waiting around for the investigation to be conducted," he said.
Jones was also critical of Farley and the rest of the defense team for providing only one report to the prosecution.
Both sides are required by law to divulge information on their investigation to the other before the start of a trial.
Henke-Dobroth said the prosecution had complied with the requirement. Farley said he believed the defense had done the same.
Jones was doubtful.
"That had better be the case. It seems unusual with the investigation that's been ongoing by the Dally team in the past year, that there is only one report deemed discoverable," he said. "If there is a violation of those obligations, they won't be dealt with lightly."