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Haun’s Attorneys Grill Witnesses on Inconsistencies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Winding down their case, defense attorneys for murder suspect Diana Haun spent Tuesday questioning out-of-court statements by nearly a dozen prosecution witnesses.

They focused on slight inconsistencies--and a few apparent contradictions--between what some witnesses told police last year and what they testified to in court.

As they prepare to rest their case this week, defense attorneys continue to vilify Michael Dally by playing up his involvement with drugs and prostitution.

After six weeks of testimony, the first phase of Haun’s murder trial is expected to draw to a close early next week, after attorneys make their closing arguments.

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Haun’s lawyers said Tuesday that they only have a handful of witnesses left to question this week, and prosecutors have indicated that their rebuttal case should only last about an hour.

The jury will not be in court today as the lawyers take up matters outside their presence. But they are scheduled to return Thursday for the final day of witness testimony.

“Very nearly all of the evidence has been presented,” Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones said late Tuesday afternoon. He said jurors could get the case for deliberations as early as next Wednesday.

In the meantime, defense attorneys continue to raise questions about the credibility of some witnesses, while showing slight inconsistencies in the testimony of others.

Among the 10 witnesses they questioned Tuesday were four Ventura police officers and a former detective who conducted interviews shortly after homemaker Sherri Dally’s May 6, 1996, disappearance.

Det. Sean Conroy recalled statements that four witnesses gave during his investigation, some of which contradict earlier testimony in the case.

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For example, Conroy said Haun’s co-worker, Carolyn Arias, told him that it was about 4 or 5 p.m. on May 6, 1996, when she first noticed scratches on Haun’s face.

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But when Arias took the witness stand, she told the jury that she left the Vons deli counter shortly after 3:15 p.m. She remembered the time distinctly, she testified, because she couldn’t leave work until Haun arrived, and Haun was running late.

Focusing on the eyewitness accounts of Sherri Dally’s kidnapping, Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn questioned Conroy about his interview with Dennis Dunlap, who saw Dally get into a blue-green car with a blond woman.

Earlier in the trial, Dunlap testified that Dally appeared to be at least an inch taller than her abductor.

But Conroy told jurors Tuesday that in an interview last year, Dunlap described Dally as being between 6 to 8 inches taller than the blond woman who handcuffed her and put her in the back seat of the car.

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He also described the vehicle in the police interview as being a Nissan Sentra, and told Conroy: “I know my cars.”

But the vehicle identified as the one in which Sherri Dally was abducted and possibly slain was a Nissan Altima, not a Sentra, the defense pointed out through Conroy’s testimony.

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Former Ventura Police Det. James Burt testified about his interview with Haun’s karate instructor, Jody Sasaki. Burt said Sasaki described Haun as not having much physical strength in that interview.

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But in court last month, Sasaki told the jury that he felt Haun was “stronger than she looked” and showed impressive abilities for a beginner student.

In other testimony Tuesday, a woman told the jury that five years ago her friend slept with Michael Dally for $60. Anne Thoms said she was introduced to Dally the same night he had sex with her prostitute friend, Celeste.

She said Dally went by the name “Mark” and it wasn’t until she met him again through a mutual friend that she discovered his true identity, she said.

The last witness to testify Tuesday was Robert Shomer, a psychologist and expert in memory. Shomer told the jury that early reports about incidents such as crimes are more reliable than later accounts.

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“You would expect the most accurate recollection to come right after the event,” he said, seemingly buttressing the testimony of police officers and their statements about initial witness interviews.

On cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth posed a few questions about Shomer’s line of work, and then asked him how much money he had made testifying Tuesday.

“I am charging for my time,” Shomer said, “somewhere in the area of $1,500.”


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