Trail of Witnesses Told of Love Triangle Bent on Destruction
Friends and relatives of Sherri Dally recalled her attempts to hold together a marriage slowly being torn apart by the adulterous affair between her husband, Michael, and his mistress, Diana Haun.
A former girlfriend of Michael Dally testified that he once talked about wanting to stab his wife to escape a marriage that made him feel trapped.
A supermarket co-worker told the jury how Haun had talked about witchcraft, spell-casting and an interest in performing a human sacrifice as a present for a male friend.
Those witnesses and more than 125 others testified during Haun’s murder trial, which spanned the last two months. Their testimony provided a picture both of the love triangle among Haun, her lover and his wife and the events leading up to and following Sherri Dally’s kidnap-slaying.
These were some of the key witnesses and what they told the jury:
* Sallie Lowe, Michael Dally’s former girlfriend.
A Santa Barbara resident, Lowe was the first witness called by the prosecution. Like Haun, she was working as a grocery clerk at a Vons store when she met Dally in 1989 and began an adulterous affair with him. It lasted three years.
During that time, Dally told Lowe he felt trapped in his marriage and wanted his wife dead, she said. “There were times he talked about stabbing her with a knife,” Lowe testified. “But not only stabbing her, but twisting the knife to cause pain.”
* John Avila, a childhood friend of Michael Dally and the head of security at the Ventura Target store where Sherri Dally was abducted.
Avila knew Michael Dally since grade school when they were altar boys together. But the two grew apart over the years, he said. As a former police officer, Avila told the jury that he once ran into Dally while patrolling an area of Oxnard called The Stroll.
“As I told him, there’s only two things down here--drugs and prostitutes,” Avila said. “He said he was just looking around.” Avila told the jury that he became a confidant of Sherri Dally and soon learned that Michael had a drug problem and was cheating on his wife.
On the morning of May 6, 1996, about an hour before she was abducted from the Target parking lot, Avila said, he talked to Sherri about her marital problems. “There were several times when I told her she would be better off leaving him.”
* Patricia Dally, Michael Dally’s sister-in-law.
Patricia Dally and her husband, Frank, visited Michael and Sherri a week before she was reported missing. During that time, Patricia Dally said, Sherri confided in her and recalled a confrontation she had had with Michael and Diana Haun a few weeks earlier.
“She said she told Diana that she was not going to get her husband and her boys, except over her dead body,” Patricia Dally testified. She told the jury that Sherri Dally was struggling to hold onto her marriage and was extremely depressed. “It was a strained relationship,” she testified. “Sherri felt she had done everything she could to be the wife and mother and couldn’t understand why that wasn’t enough.”
* Teresa Estrella, a Vons co-worker who talked to Haun about witchcraft.
Sitting on the witness stand and refusing to make eye contact with the defendant, Estrella told the jury that Haun described herself as a witch who cast spells and was “thinking about” performing a human sacrifice as a birthday present to a male friend. “She told me she had someone in mind,” Estrella testified. “She told me she practiced white magic and that she was thinking about practicing black magic.”
* Tracy Bixler, a prostitute who met Haun in jail.
Bixler told the jury that earlier this year she met Haun in jail and the two realized they had both had sex with Michael Dally. Bixler told Haun that she knew Michael Dally on the streets of Ventura simply as “Mark.” “I don’t do last names,” she explained. The two had sex four times, Bixler said, and took drugs together. Haun was caught unawares by this information about her longtime lover, Bixler said. “She was shocked.”
* Sandra Acevedo, an employee at the Oxnard wig shop where Haun purchased a blond wig two days before Sherri Dally was reported missing.
Acevedo testified that at about 5:30 p.m. on May 4, 1996, Haun came into the store to buy a wig. Haun said “she wanted to play a trick on somebody,” Acevedo told the jury. After trying on a short blond wig, Acevedo said, Haun asked her if she looked like she had “authority.” Haun bought the wig, and while paying for it with a personal check, Acevedo said, she saw a photo in Haun’s wallet of Michael Dally and his two sons.
* Joanne Bidlingmaier, a Target shopper who saw a suspicious car outside the store on May 6, 1996, the day Sherri Dally was abducted.
A Ventura resident, Bidlingmaier was walking into Target when she noticed a blue-green car in the parking lot with what appeared to be an altered license plate, she said.
The driver appeared to be wearing a blond wig and heavy pancake makeup, she testified. “To me it was a disguise,” she told the jury, recalling how the woman’s strange appearance prompted her to ask a security guard if the store was being robbed.
* Margaret Wilmeth, an eyewitness who saw Sherri Dally get into a teal-colored car with a blond woman at Target.
Also a Ventura resident, Wilmeth told the jury that she saw two women outside Target on the same morning: Sherri Dally and a blond woman in a tan pantsuit. Although she could not hear their conversation, Wilmeth said Dally got out of her van and allowed herself to be handcuffed by the blond woman and led by the arm to the back seat of the teal car. After both women were in the car, Wilmeth said the blond driver sped away “real fast.”
* Mary Oliver, Diana Haun’s sister.
Oliver testified three times during the trial, telling the jury on one occasion that her sister told her that she was sunbathing at the beach on the morning of May 6, 1996.
Oliver said that she pressed her sister about her whereabouts after Haun was arrested. “She was being accused of doing a murder,” she told the jury. “We wanted to be sure we knew what she did that day.”
* Samantha Spencer, a Ventura woman who said she saw Haun parked near the ravine where Dally’s body was found.
In court and to police detectives, Spencer identified Haun as the “panic-stricken” woman she saw sitting in a parked car beneath a highway overpass on Canada Larga Road at 1:30 a.m. on May 7, 1996--about 16 hours after Dally’s abduction.
Spencer was the first and only witness to place Haun near the location where Dally’s skeletal remains were found. The overpass is two miles from the ravine where Dally’s body was dumped.
Spencer’s testimony was challenged by two other witnesses, however. Tracy Girt and Jennifer Sajonia , friends who were with Spencer that night, testified that they could not identify the woman they saw parked on the shoulder of the road as Haun.
* Ronald O’Halloran, Ventura County medical examiner.
After collecting and examining Sherri Dally’s skeletal remains from the ravine, the coroner testified that she was killed by blunt force injuries to her head and stab wounds to her chest. Dally was stabbed at least eight times, O’Halloran said, possibly with a double-bladed knife or dagger.
A cut to her neck bone and a small nick on the underside of her skull also suggest that Dally was beheaded by her attacker--possibly with a camping ax, the coroner said. “One stroke with a hatchet could produce all of those injuries,” he testified. “They are consistent with a beheading.”
* Hannah Murray, Michael Dally’s 20-year-old niece.
As police began to probe the disappearance of Sherri Dally, Murray told the jury, she asked her uncle flatly whether he was involved in her abduction.
“I asked him, ‘Michael, please tell me you had nothing to do with this,’ ” she testified. “He said, ‘Just promise me, no matter what, you will be on my side.’ ”
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Key Dates in Dally Murder Case
May 6, 1996--Sherri Dally disappears from the Target parking lot in Ventura. Witnesses later testify before the Ventura County Grand Jury that they saw a woman matching her description get into the back of a blue-green car.
May 18--Diana Haun is arrested in connection with the disappearance but later is released. No charges are filed.
June 1--A search party finds Dally’s remains in a ravine off Canada Larga Road north of Ventura.
June 5--Coroner says Dally was beaten and stabbed to death.
Aug. 1--Haun is arrested on suspicion of killing Dally.
Aug. 16--The grand jury indicts Haun on charges of murder and kidnapping.
Nov. 15--Michael Dally is arrested in connection with his wife’s slaying and is indicted on charges of murder, conspiracy, kidnapping and special-circumstance allegations making him eligible for the death penalty. Haun is re-indicted on the same charges.
Dec. 4--Haun and Dally enter pleas of not guilty.
Dec. 20--The district attorney announces the death penalty will be sought.
April 23, 1997--The grand jury re-indicts the pair after one of the two special-circumstance allegations is dismissed by the judge.
May 1--A hearing on change of venue begins as defense attorneys argue that Dally and Haun cannot get a fair trial in Ventura County because of pretrial publicity.
May 30--The judge rules a jury from Santa Barbara County should be imported to Ventura County Superior Court to hear the case.
June 17--The judge decides that Dally and Haun should have separate trials.
June 30--Jury selection begins in Haun’s trial in Santa Barbara.
July 30--A dozen jurors and six alternates are selected for the trial.
Aug. 4--Opening statements are scheduled to begin.
Sept. 17, 18, 19--Closing arguments.
Sept. 19--Jury receives the case.
Sept. 22-26--Jury deliberates.
Sept. 26--Jury convicts Diana Haun of first-degree murder.