News of Verdict Spreads Quickly
The detectives laughed and hugged and laughed some more.
The victim’s mother wept, then smiled.
The defendant’s family sat still in the courtroom, ashen-faced.
The co-defendant’s lawyer looked glum, saying only, “The jury has spoken.”
After a six-week trial and 4 1/2 days of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict just after 2 p.m. Friday, convicting Diana Haun of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder in the slaying of Ventura mother Sherri Dally.
Jurors are to return Oct. 20 for the penalty phase of the trial to decide whether to recommend that Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones give Haun the death penalty or a life prison sentence without parole.
Meanwhile, Michael Dally, the defendant’s lover and the victim’s husband, awaits his own trial on similar charges. While Haun cannot be forced to testify against him, thus giving up her rights to avoid self-incrimination pending a possible appeal, prosecutors might persuade her to take the stand to avoid a death sentence.
The news of Haun’s conviction spread quickly across Ventura County via newscast and word of mouth.
At the Vons supermarket on Channel Islands Boulevard where Haun used to work as a deli clerk, telephones began to ring.
“I always thought she did it; she gets what she deserves,” said employee Jason Fischer, who knew Sherri Dally when she worked at the Vons on Thompson Boulevard in Ventura. “I feel sorry for [Michael and Sherry Dally’s] kids. Chances are they will lose [Michael Dally] too. . . . It’s got to be kind of hard knowing your dad’s girlfriend axed mom.”
A bakery clerk who knew Haun sat in his beat-up El Camino in the Vons lot after work, smoking a cigarette as he listened to radio coverage of the verdict--and the penalty phase that will follow, when jurors will decide whether Haun deserves the death penalty. The clerk wept softly.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said the man, who identified himself only as Pat. “There was so much evidence that was put forward; the outcome was not surprising. . . . You think you know somebody and find out you were wrong.”
For friends of the victim, the news came as a relief.
Gary Aanerud said the investigation and trial had seemed surreal. He was worried that justice might not come to the woman who murdered his friend.
“Anybody could see that with all this evidence, it could only lead to one person,” said Aanerud, who helped organize the search that found Sherri Dally’s mutilated remains in a ravine north of Ventura.
“As the week started progressing and the jury was still out, I started getting worried [that] they found areas of the evidence that were inconsistent and she might be found not guilty or that she would get off on [lesser] charges,” he said.
After the verdict, members of the Ventura police detective team that made the Sherri Dally slaying their full-time job emerged from the courtroom and clapped each other on the back. They grinned broadly, then erupted into laughter and hugged each other, saying, “Good job! Good job!”
Sherri Dally’s death had triggered the largest murder investigation in the department’s history, drawing more than 30 Ventura officers and detectives into an 11-week investigation.
The detectives--among them major crimes Lt. Don Arth, Sgt. Gary McCaskill and Dets. Sean Conroy and Matt Harvil--took the case to heart. They attended Sherri Dally’s funeral and grew close to her family.
It was Harvil and Conroy who had interviewed Haun several times after Dally’s body was found.
But none of the detectives would comment after seeing her convicted. A gag order remains in effect until the end of the penalty phase for Haun and the subsequent trial of Michael Dally, who is accused of joining with Haun in the plot and slaying of his wife.
Meanwhile, relatives of Haun were led out a back door of the courtroom after the verdict to avoid the more than two dozen reporters and photographers waiting in the public hallway.
Sherri Dally’s mother, Karlyne Guess, emerged into the crowded hallway near tears and hugged one of her daughter’s friends after another.
And two hours after the verdict, co-defendant Michael Dally’s father was at home trimming hedges.
He waved a reporter away with a polite smile, and others of Dally’s and Haun’s relatives declined to comment on the verdict.
However, courtroom spectators were quick to pass judgment now that the jury had reached its own.
Yolanda Herrera of Oxnard has visited the Haun trial every day for the last two weeks--arriving as early as 5:30 a.m. some days to gain a coveted seat in the courtroom. She was not surprised by the verdict.
“I was suspecting it, dreaming about it,” Herrera said, standing on a bench, craning her neck to see who would come out of the courtroom. “With all that evidence, she was guilty!”
Herrera said she hopes that Haun gets the death penalty. But, she added, “I was kind of feeling sorry for her last night. Then I thought, I should feel sorry for Sherri, who’s no longer here with her kids.”
Now she is primed to watch Michael Dally’s trial. “I’ve read a lot of mysteries, and this is better than any book,” she said.
This trial rivals the best of them, agreed Jeanne Sullivan, a Ventura court watcher for the last 15 years.
“This had a lot of different things,” said Sullivan, who sat through nearly every day of the trial and even waited in the courtroom during four days of jury deliberations. “I’ve never watched a case that was all circumstantial evidence--with no physical.”
She said she was glad to see that Haun was found guilty. “Thank goodness it came down right,” she said. “It renewed my faith in the justice system.”
She said she also hopes that Haun gets the death penalty. “I would love to see her get one,” she said. “She gave Sherri the death penalty, didn’t she?”
Meanwhile, lawyers analyzed the outcome.
David Shain and J. Grant Kennedy, who watched the Haun trial closely, praised the jury for spending so much time reviewing the evidence and deliberating on the verdict.
“I’ve seen a lot of juries, and they were very diligent,” Kennedy said Friday.
“If the attorneys took a sidebar with the judge, [the jurors] didn’t sit and look out into the audience or anything; they’d go over their notes,” he said. “Even in the slow parts of this trial, they were working very hard. They wanted to do the right thing and they wanted to give her every opportunity.”
Shain found it interesting that the jury agreed with the special circumstance that Haun had killed Sherri Dally for financial gain.
“So much of the prosecution case--and the defense as well--seemed to focus on the fact that this was done not so much for her personal financial gain, but because of her desperate, passionate, sick love for this man,” Shain said.
Kennedy questioned the views of some pundits who predict that Haun might choose to testify against Michael Dally in a deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty.
“I would certainly do it if it were me, and I would certainly recommend it to my client to save somebody’s life,” Kennedy said. “I think it’s human nature to save her own life, even though there must have been a very strong love between [her and Dally].”
On the other hand, Haun might gamble and refuse to testify against her lover--figuring that it could help spare his life and that she would likely never have to face execution in the glacial pace of California’s death penalty system, he said.
What’s more, California has not executed a woman since Elizabeth Ann “Ma” Duncan was put to death for having her pregnant daughter-in-law murdered.
“Statistically, the odds of them actually carrying out a death penalty against a woman is not that great,” he said.
Times staff writers Scott Hadly and Hilary E. MacGregor; Times correspondents Nick Green, Richard Warchol and Dawn Hobbs, and Times photographer Alan Hagman contributed to this story.
The Haun Jury
A seven-man, five-woman jury on Friday found 36-year-old Diana Haun guilty of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in the fatal stabbing of her lover’s wife. The decision propels the case into the penalty phase where the same jurors will recommend whether Haun should be executed for the crime. It’s up to the judge to impose the sentence.
The Haun Jury
Here are descriptions and the seating chart for the 12 men and women chosen to determine the fate of accused murderer Diana Haun.
1. A Santa Barbara city planner who said he would not automatically vote for the death penalty if the case reaches a penalty phase.
2. A grandfather who said he would consider evidence about witchcraft “weird” but not hateful. He said he favors the death penalty and considers the alternate sentence of life in prison a “cop out.”
3. A woman who served as a juror on a capital murder case in the late 1980s in which the jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder but decided not to impose the death penalty.
4. A homemaker and former waitress who said viewing photographs of the victim’s skeletal remains would be “unpleasant” but not something that would impair her from serving on the jury.
5. A systems analyst for the Santa Barbara courts and a former sheriff’s department employee who said his views on the death penalty softened after reading John Grisham’s novel, “The Chamber.”
6. A Santa Barbara city resident who said she could listen to potentially gruesome evidence about body decomposition and view crime scene photos.
7. A Santa Barbara Municipal Court clerk who said she vaguely recalled some publicity surrounding the Dally murder case, but said it would not affect her ability to be an impartial juror.
8. A Santa Barbara city resident who believes the death penalty is an acceptable form of punishment. He could not recall any details about Dally’s kidnap-slaying despite regularly reading the newspaper “cover to cover.”
9. A woman who grew up in a law enforcement family but assured attorneys that her upbringing would not cause her to favor the prosecution.
10. A man who said he favors the death penalty but would not automatically vote for it without full consideration of all the evidence.
11. A Santa Barbara County planner and father of children roughly the same age as Sherri Dally’s two boys. He was unsure how he would vote if asked to decide a death penalty case: “Without hearing the evidence I couldn’t even guess.”
12. A young night stockroom worker for a food company and father of two children ages 5 and 1 1/2. Generally favors the death penalty but would not automatically vote for it.