So struck was Michael Dally’s hairstylist by the murder defendant’s comments and swagger, Julie Ertman started taking notes.
Testifying in Dally’s murder trial Friday, Ertman recalled how the defendant, a client of two years, told of reading news accounts of his wife’s disappearance to his two young sons Devon and Max.
She talked about the May afternoon he asked her out to lunch at the nearby Taco Bell, the July 1996 day he suggested where she might find a bikini for a summer vacation, and how forthcoming and nonchalant he had been about the search for his wife’s body.
“He said, ‘Yeah, they have the helicopters out looking for Sherri’s body,’ ” Ertman recalled Dally saying during a May 24, 1996, haircut for son Devon, just 18 days after Sherri Dally’s abduction from the Target parking lot in Ventura.
“I asked, ‘How do they do that?’ ” Ertman continued. “He said they just look where the birds and vultures are circling. He said, ‘If she’s buried deep enough, they’ll never find her unless a wolf digs her up. Otherwise, she’s just fertilizer.’ ”
Dally, 37, is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiring with his former mistress, Diana Haun, to kill his wife.
Haun was convicted of the same charges last fall and sentenced to life in prison.
On Friday, prosecutors continued eliciting testimony that Dally was a cold and uncaring widower not at all saddened by his wife’s death.
Ertman said her conversations with Michael Dally about his wife’s disappearance began on May 19, 1996, when Dally came into the busy store, his eyes bloodshot and glazed over.
When it was time for his haircut, Ertman said, she went to the front of the store to call his name.
“I wasn’t sure what to say,” Ertman testified. “I said, ‘How are you?’ He said, ‘I’m a single dad.’ ”
He looked tired, she said. But his chatty nature suggested otherwise.
Dally, she said, did most of the talking that day. He told her of several things she had yet to see in the media: about his wife’s abduction by a woman in a blond wig with a fake badge, about the blood found in the back seat of a rental car, about Sherri’s $50,000 life insurance policy, about how police were questioning him as a suspect.
His demeanor in the store, she said, was striking.
“It was obvious that people recognized him from what had happened,” Ertman said. “He seemed that he was the center of attention, and he knew that he was.”
Also testifying Friday was Kelsey Anderson, then a student at Buena High School who on May 24 overheard Michael Dally speaking with his two sons as she waited in line at Taco Bell.
She was only a couple of feet away from the three when she heard one of the boys, then ages 6 and 8, ask if their father was going to jail.
Dally, she said, replied, “No. Only if they can prove that I killed her.”
What if they do? Anderson said the boy asked.
He would probably be killed in the electric chair, she said Dally responded.
Would it hurt? she said the child asked.
“Just a little bit,” she recalled hearing the father reply.
Anderson admitted under cross-examination that the restaurant was very noisy and that she did not hear the beginning or the end of the conversation.
In other testimony, two employees at the Michaels Arts and Crafts store said Michael Dally and a woman they identified as Haun came into the store on May 10 to post missing fliers.
Michaels is next to the Target store. Sherri Dally often bought craft supplies at Michaels for the day-care center she ran out of the couple’s Channel Drive home in Ventura.
Melyssa Jones said she approached Dally and initially told him that she might have seen Sherri Dally in the store the morning she disappeared.
Later, she realized that she had not seen the victim.
Dally, she said, kept pressing her as to whether she saw his wife with a tall, thin woman in a beige suit, the disguise Haun was wearing when she posed as a Target security guard and kidnapped her lover’s wife.
“I said no,” Jones said. “He got a little agitated. After awhile, he got angry and said ‘Think, think.’ He wanted to put words in my mouth . . . “
Asked by Dally’s attorney, James M. Farley, if she felt Dally was just trying to jog her memory out of concern that his wife was missing, Jones said no.
“That’s not what I got,” she said.
Jones’ co-worker, Tracy McCallon, said she tried to tell Michael Dally about a man she had seen driving through the parking lot in a beat-up old car making rude gestures.
But Dally, she said, kept interrupting her mid-sentence, suggesting maybe the man was driving a newer car, such as the teal blue Nissan witnesses saw Sherri Dally get into on the day she was abducted.
“It was to the point that it bothered me, because I felt like he wasn’t listening to what I was saying,” McCallon testified.
“It upset me,” she added later. “It was kind of obnoxious. I expected him to be concerned, kind of sad, and he was more angry than sad.”
Andrew Stone, manager of a San Juan Capistrano jet ski repair shop that Dally frequented, said he heard from Michael Dally on May 8, when the defendant called him at home about an engine problem.
Dally wanted to bring his jet ski down to be repaired, saying he needed to get away for a few days, Stone said.
Dally’s voice sounded “shaky,” so Stone asked what was wrong.
Dally told him his wife had been abducted two days before and that he needed to get away for a few days.
“I wondered why he was coming in with his jet ski when his wife was gone,” Stone testified. “That just dumbfounded me.”
Jurors also heard testimony from several others who had previously testified in Haun’s trial, including Michael Dally’s sister, Sharon Murray, and day-care clients Linda and Daniel Hunt.
Daniel Hunt recalled coming to the Dally house on May 8 to pay a monthly child-care bill. Two men pulled up in a car, and one told Michael Dally that a friend of his had died in Arizona, Hunt said.
Dally’s reaction was “sorrow, a little bit teary-eyed,” Hunt said, emotions he said he never saw Dally express over his own wife’s death.
“Were you present with Mr. Dally when he first learned that his wife was missing?” Farley asked Hunt during cross-examination.
“No,” Hunt replied.