Killer’s Penalty Case Ends in Mistrial


The jury weighing the fate of convicted killer Michael Dally declared itself hopelessly deadlocked Friday, prompting a Ventura County Superior Court judge to declare a mistrial in the penalty phase of the high-profile case.

After three days of deliberations, jurors remained divided 7 to 5 on whether Dally should be executed for plotting with his former lover to kidnap and kill his wife, Sherri. The majority wanted the death penalty for the 37-year-old grocery manager.

As Superior Court Judge Charles W. Campbell Jr. ordered a mistrial, Dally stared straight ahead with his chin held high and displaying little emotion. But he smiled and patted the backs of his two lawyers after the jury left the courtroom, nodding at his father, Lawrence, who was seated a few feet away.

“My son has another chance,” Lawrence Dally told a crush of reporters outside the courtroom. “I’m just glad he’ll get another crack at it.”


Prosecutors must now decide whether to pursue a second penalty trial, which would require picking a new jury to decide only what punishment should be meted out.

Without a new jury, the judge would automatically sentence Dally to life in prison without the possibility of parole, prosecutors said.

A hearing on the matter is set for May 11, at which time prosecutors said they will reveal their decision.

Outside the courtroom, Dally’s lawyers refused to comment on the deadlock.


Sherri Dally disappeared from a store parking lot May 6, 1996. A month later, a search party found her skeletal remains scattered in the bottom of a steep ravine between Ventura and Ojai.

The medical examiner determined that she had been bludgeoned, possibly with the blunt end of an ax, and stabbed repeatedly in the chest. A clear cut to the base of her skull also suggested that she had been beheaded.

After a six-week trial last year, Michael Dally’s mistress, Diana Haun, was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy for her role in the slaying and sentenced to life in prison.

Michael Dally was convicted of the same charges two weeks ago.


During the penalty phase of his trial this week, Dally told jurors that he loved his wife and played no role in her murder.