After listening to Sherri Dally’s mother describe how she is haunted by images of her daughter being murdered with an ax and “thrown like a bag of trash down a ravine,” a Ventura judge sentenced Michael Dally on Tuesday to life in prison without parole for his wife’s murder.
Superior Court Judge Charles W. Campbell also ordered Dally to pay $10,000 in restitution to the state and $15,000 to the family of his dead wife.
Dally’s sentencing brought to a formal conclusion the trial in which the former grocery store clerk was found guilty of conspiring with his former lover, Diana Haun, to murder his wife in 1996 for financial gain. Haun previously was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole for carrying out the killing.
Dressed in his jailhouse blues, Dally sat in court Tuesday with his chin held high, leaning back slightly in his chair at the defense table as Sherri’s mother, KarlyneGuess, told the court how grisly details of her daughter’s murder still plague her.
“Our precious daughter, our baby, thrown away, dumped, discarded as though she was nothing,” she said, reading from a 13-page letter. “Eaten by animals, birds and rodents . . . I still picture animals tearing at her flesh, plucking at her skin, gnawing at her bones, dragging some off. Buzzards plucking her beautiful blue eyes out.”
Defense attorney Jim Farley’s hand rested on Dally’s shoulder as Guess described the pain her family has suffered since Sherri’s murder and the hatred they feel for Michael Dally.
“How we wish we could have protected her,” Guess said.
Dally was convicted in April of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. But the jury deadlocked 7-5 one month later on whether he should be executed.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Farley entered a motion for a new trial that Campbell promptly denied.
In letters filed with the court, Dally’s family pleaded with the judge to have Dally incarcerated nearby so he could see his two sons and his aging parents.
“At least three times a week I would take the boys and they would play around the jail on the lawn,” Dally’s father, Lawrence, wrote in a letter dated May 29. “Michael would catch a glimpse of the boys playing. Just the satisfaction that their dad was watching made the boys feel connected to their father . . . it is with their best interest in heart that we would request that if you can in any way assist or suggest that Michael be placed in a facility close to Ventura.”
The boys, Max, 8, and Devon, 10, also wrote a letter of their own.
“Dear Judge Campbell,” they scrawled in large letters. “We love our dad very much. We would appreciate it very much if you could [assign] our dad to a close prison so we can see him as much as we can.”
Sherri’s mother, in turn, pleaded with the judge to have Dally incarcerated as far away as possible.
“He should suffer one year for every second my daughter suffered by his cruel behavior,” she said.
Campbell said the decision on where Dally is incarcerated is up to the California Department of Corrections.
Following Dally’s sentencing, family members, attorneys, reporters and court watchers poured into the hall outside the courtroom but found little to talk about.
“It was anticlimactic,” Raylene Robinson, who attended the entire trial with several of her friends, said of the sentencing. She said now she will go back to cleaning house and doing yardwork.
Robinson said she was moved by Guess’ letter. “Sherri’s mother made me cry so hard,” she said. “I’d like to slap [Michael Dally]. He’s very cocky.”
Speaking into a sea of microphones, Farley said his client will appeal. But Farley refused to elaborate about Dally’s reaction to his sentence.
“He understands he is going to be spending the rest of his life in prison,” Farley said. “You just do it one day at a time until you die. That’s it.”
Farley said he was distressed by Guess’ recommendation that Dally be incarcerated so far away his family would not be able to see him.
“The boys are entitled to see their father,” he said. “Why should they be denied?”
He said Dally will be sent to a maximum security facility where he will be monitored every minute of every day and be granted almost no privileges.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth said she is glad the case is over.
“I still feel strongly that the case justified the death penalty,” she said. “He’s a person without a conscience. A person who showed absolutely no glimmer of remorse or sadness for his wife, his family or his children.”
She added: “I never enjoyed being in the same room as Michael Dally. I’m glad I never have to be in the same room again.”
Sherri Dally disappeared from a Target store parking lot on the morning of May 6, 1996, after shoppers saw her get into the back seat of a teal-colored car driven by a blond woman.
Witnesses say they thought Sherri Dally, a 35-year-old day-care provider, was being arrested because she allowed herself to be handcuffed before climbing into the car.
Court testimony later revealed that Haun was the woman who approached Sherri Dally in a disguise.
A month later, a search party found Dally’s skeletal remains scattered at 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.
Even some of those who love him said they were hurt by Dally in his final day in court.
Hannah Murray, Dally’s 21-year-old niece, came prepared to read a statement in court saying how much they care for him, despite what he had done.
“I wanted to say something on behalf of my family, who are in great pain,” she said. “I wanted to say something so he wouldn’t feel alone.”
But Dally said he did not want to hear it, Murray said.
“That hurt,” she said.