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Man, 61, Testifies in Wife's 1991 Slaying

Trial: Sylmar defendant Dennis Dawley contends he had no reason to bludgeon her to death. He and prostitute lover are accused.

March 19, 1997|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VAN NUYS — A man on trial in the murder for profit of his wife of 35 years testified Tuesday in his own defense that he had no reason to commit the crime.

Dennis Dawley, accused of bludgeoning his wife to death six years ago with the help of his prostitute lover, tried to blunt the prosecutor's contention that the motive was control of a home, life insurance policy and a $70,000 inheritance.

Dressed in a black sweater vest and gray slacks, the 21-year Air Force veteran and golf starter at the Balboa-Encino Golf Course acknowledged his wife, Joan, had acquired a large sum of money from her dead mother, and that the couple used the money to pay for extensive home renovations, cars and gambling jaunts to Las Vegas.

Under questioning from defense attorney Rayford Fountain, Dawley, 61, stated his wife decided when and how much money to spend.

"She spent what she wanted and I spent what she let me," Dawley said. "It was her money and she suggested doing things with it."

Prosecutors argue money was the primary motive for murder. They contend DNA scrapings taken from the fingernails of Dawley's lover, Brandita Taliano, as well as a host of circumstantial evidence tie the pair directly to the April 17, 1991, attack.

"He is trying to distance himself from the important issue, which is the motive," Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert B. Foltz said after Tuesday's testimony.

Dawley testified the couple often took trips to Las Vegas and paid for their jaunts with money stored in metal safes in their Sylmar garage and as well as envelopes of cash tucked into the freezer.

During their 35 years of marriage there were also problems, Dawley said. He cited an affair his wife had with a friend and testified a poor sex life caused him to seek prostitutes.

"She would say don't bother me about that," Daley said. "Go out and find some."

Dawley, a supervisor at a Mission Hills Hallmark store, was slain after returning home from a night of bowling with her husband and was found at 10 a.m. the next morning by her boss and friend.

Dawley first came under suspicion when he took a trip to Las Vegas with his prostitute-mistress two days after he buried his wife.

Dawley and Taliano were both arrested in 1991 on suspicion of the murder but released because of insufficient evidence.

New DNA technology enabled police two years ago to identify Taliano as the source of the scrapings from under the victim's fingernails.

Investigators also linked the defendants to the crime through financial and telephone records.

Police said Dawley tried to hire two hit men to kill his wife, but when one was picked up on a parole violation, Dawley killed her himself.

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