Concluding a rare wrongful death lawsuit, a judge awarded the children of slain homemaker Sherri Dally $6.4 million in damages Wednesday to compensate for the emotional and financial loss of their mother.
But how much of that sum they will be able to squeeze from convicted killer Diana Haun remains to be seen.
“That’s obviously a problem,” attorney John R. Malmo said, explaining that the court can order seizure of Haun’s personal assets and garnish a $1-million annuity she was awarded as a teenager to pay the judgment.
But even then, Dally’s two boys may never see the full amount.
Haun’s annuity is spread out over the next 25 years, and it is already being garnished monthly by the Ventura County public defender’s office to repay the costs of her $202,400 defense.
Through their maternal grandparents, 9-year-old Devon and 8-year-old Max Dally sued Haun three months ago after she was convicted of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in their mother’s May 6, 1996, slaying.
Haun, who was having an affair with the boys’ father, Michael Dally, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Dally is now facing the same charges for allegedly planning his wife’s killing with Haun.
Although she was served with the lawsuit Jan. 15 at a women’s prison in Chowchilla, Haun never responded to the complaint and no attorney represented her at a default hearing Wednesday afternoon.
Ventura County Superior Court Judge Barbara A. Lane noted Haun’s failure to answer the complaint at that hearing and awarded the full damages sought on behalf of the boys.
Lane decided that each boy should receive $3.2 million. Their maternal grandparents will be co-trustees of the money, which the boys will not be able to touch until they are 18, said Malmo, their lawyer.
Wrongful death lawsuits stemming from criminal cases are unusual, Malmo said, mainly because convicted killers rarely have money. The O. J. Simpson case is the only other such action that Malmo could cite.
Haun, a former grocery clerk, earns more than $1,400 a month as a result of a decades-old legal settlement awarded after she suffered a severe head injury when a basketball backboard collapsed on her head in the school gym.
The annuity increases every five years until she is 61. But the terms of the settlement do not allow her to draw on future payments, which means that there is no immediate pool of money for the Dally children to tap.
Outside the courtroom Wednesday, the boys’ maternal grandmother, Karlyne Guess, said she was pleased with the judgment. Guess testified briefly at the default hearing, telling Lane that her daughter was a devoted mother who loved her two boys deeply.
“I think it is real important that she been seen as a mother and something other than a victim,” Guess said.