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Deliberations in Dally Case Expected to Begin Today

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The case against suspected wife-killer Michael Dally was given to the jury late Monday afternoon, concluding seven weeks of testimony in one of Ventura County’s most sensational murder trials.

The panel of eight men and four women is expected to begin deliberations today.

For nearly a week, prosecutors and defense attorneys have meticulously pored over evidence presented during the trial and delivered passionate closing arguments.

On Monday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth got the last word.

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She told jurors in a three-hour rebuttal that Dally, 37, committed the ultimate act of betrayal by persuading his lover, Diana Haun, to murder his wife.

Sherri Dally, 35, was kidnapped, beaten and fatally stabbed on May 6, 1996. Her body was dumped in a steep ravine outside Ventura and discovered by a search party a month later.

“The husband she trusted ended that life,” Henke-Dobroth said in her final remarks. “Please see that justice is done.”

The prosecutor urged jurors to find Dally guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping and conspiracy--findings that could trigger a second, penalty phase in which the same jury would be asked to decide whether the former grocery store employee should live or die.

But the jury has another option. It could decide that Dally was unaware of the plan to kill his wife and only became involved after the fact. That theory was offered by defense attorneys who suggested Haun acted alone.

In closing arguments last week, attorney Robert Schwartz argued that Haun was so obsessed with the defendant that she decided to murder his wife and take Sherri Dally’s place.

Haun “pulled the wool” over Michael Dally’s eyes, Schwartz said, adding that, at most, his client could be found guilty as an accessory after the fact.

But in her rebuttal, Henke-Dobroth said the evidence does not support such a finding. She told the jury it would be better to acquit Dally of murder than return a guilty verdict on the lesser charge.

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“That would be an insult to the memory of Sherri Dally and the facts in this case,” she said.

Michael Dally was indicted on charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy because those were the crimes he committed, Henke-Dobroth argued. Finding him guilty of a lesser felony, she added, “would be like convicting him of petty theft when he stole the Hope Diamond.”

The prosecutor made one other remark with regard to the lesser charge. Using a term coined by Schwartz in his closing summation last week, she said convicting Dally of the lesser offense would equate to a “get-out-of-jail-free card” from the board game Monopoly.

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Defense attorneys cried foul.

At the first recess, Schwartz and co-counsel James Farley made a motion for a mistrial on the grounds Henke-Dobroth had compromised their client’s right to a fair trial.

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It was out of line, they argued, for her to call a lesser conviction an “insult” and suggest to the jury that such a verdict would result in no jail time. Juries are not allowed to consider punishment during deliberations.

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Superior Court Judge Charles W. Campbell agreed that the remark was improper, but said it did not warrant a mistrial. Campbell admonished the jury on the issue after the recess, reminding them that it was inappropriate to contemplate possible punishment while determining Dally’s guilt.

During the remainder of her rebuttal, Henke-Dobroth reviewed key statements by a handful of witnesses who testified about alleged admissions the defendant made after his wife was killed.

The prosecutor also focused on statements Haun made to a co-worker and an employee at a wig shop. She said the remarks suggest Haun was plotting a crime with someone else.

In the months before the murder, Haun told co-worker Teresa Estrella that she wanted to perform a human sacrifice as a birthday present to a male friend. Prosecutors contend that friend was Michael Dally.

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Before the Ventura County Grand Jury, Estrella testified that Haun told her the male friend “had someone in mind.” But her trial testimony was different, suggesting that it was Haun who had selected a victim.

Henke-Dobroth told jurors that Estrella’s earlier statements to the grand jury as well as police were more reliable. She said the remarks by Haun prove Dally was involved in a conspiracy to commit murder.

Haun’s statements to wig shop employee Sandra Acevedo also confirm the alleged conspiracy, the prosecutor argued.

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Just two days before the kidnap-murder, Haun told Acevedo that she wanted to buy a short blond wig to play a trick on someone because “they are always playing tricks on us.” Haun was referring to herself and Dally, Henke-Dobroth argued.


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