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Jurors See Videotape of Sherri Dally Leaving Store

Court: Murder trial panel also hears testimony about statements the victim made just before her alleged kidnapping in a parking lot.

August 09, 1997|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Depressed and defeated in her efforts to hold together a failing marriage, Sherri Dally's last words to a longtime friend were an apologetic goodbye before walking out of a Ventura discount store.

"It was the same way she always ended any conversation with me with: 'Sorry to take up your time,' " John Avila testified Friday.

Minutes after their conversation, the 35-year-old day-care center operator was reportedly handcuffed, taken without a struggle and never heard from again.

Jurors in the murder trial of Dally's accused abductor and killer, 36-year-old grocery clerk Diana Haun, heard testimony Friday about statements the victim made just before her alleged kidnapping.

And they watched silently as portions of a security videotape showing Dally walking out of the Target store on the morning of her May 6, 1996, disappearance were played for a packed courtroom.

The black-and-white footage established two important facts in the case: the time Dally entered the store, 8:10 a.m., and the time she left, 9:22 a.m.

The times are significant because in addition to murder, conspiracy and kidnapping, prosecutors have accused Haun of lying in wait in the Target parking lot with the intention of abducting Dally under false pretenses.

*

They say Haun waited in a rented car for Dally to come out of the store before kidnapping her while disguised as a security guard.

In addition to the testimony about Dally's visit to Target, which is expected to continue Monday, jurors were told about the following:

* A May 6 phone call to a Camarillo dry cleaners in which the unidentified caller asked how to get a large amount of blood out of the back seat of a car.

* Unusual statements made by the victim's husband, Michael Dally, after his wife's disappearance. Michael Dally is also facing murder and related charges in connection with his wife's slaying.

Haun and Michael Dally face two special circumstance allegations that Sherri Dally's slaying was accomplished by her killer lying in wait and that the crime was committed, in part, for financial gain. Both face the death penalty if convicted.

Although the court convened for only four hours Friday, prosecutors questioned three witnesses and defense attorneys launched an aggressive cross-examination of Avila before jurors went home for the weekend.

Avila began his second day of testimony by recalling his last conversation with Sherri Dally on the day she disappeared.

She was shopping at Target, he said, and stopped by his office to talk. Avila was employed as the head of security for the Target store at the time.

For more than 40 minutes they talked about her unhappy marriage to his boyhood friend Michael Dally, Michael Dally's drug use and his affair with Diana Haun, he said.

"She was wanting Michael to just leave everything else he was doing and just come home to her," Avila said.

Asked by prosecutor Lela Henke-Dobroth what Sherri Dally's demeanor was like that morning as they discussed those issues, Avila said she was depressed.

"Whenever she talked of the subject, she would become teary-eyed," he said. "She would shake and tremble."

At the end of their talk, Sherri Dally said she was sorry for burdening him with her problems, Avila said, and went off to buy her mother a gift in the store.

"It was an apology and 'See you later,' " he recalled.

*

Later that same day, after he left work, Avila said he received a strange phone call from Michael Dally, who informed him that Sherri was missing.

Avila had already heard this from Michael Dally's sister, Sharon, who had visited the store's parking lot and searched through her sister-in-law's abandoned van--a search that Michael Dally seemed unaware of until Avila told him, he said.

"He became very upset," Avila said. "He made a statement similar to, 'She's messing everything up.' "

Avila said Dally did not sound like a worried husband and made another unusual statement during their conversation about his wife's disappearance.

"He paused and said, 'She's gone, man. Somebody nabbed her.' I immediately became suspicious," he said. "It was the way he said it."

"At that time," Henke-Dobroth questioned, "had there been any mention that Sherri Dally might have been kidnapped?"

"No," Avila answered. "None whatsoever."

In a conversation the next day, at 8:20 a.m. on May 7, Avila said Dally was breathing hard into the phone and told him, "The cops are trying to pin this on me."

Michael Dally never participated in the searches that community volunteers conducted for his wife, Avila told the jury. And at her funeral, he said, Dally acted "cool and distant."

An Baxter, who regularly took her children to Sherri Dally's Ventura home for day care, also testified Friday about Michael Dally's behavior after his wife's disappearance.

*

Baxter said she was startled by Dally's upbeat attitude during a phone conversation four days after Sherri Dally was reported missing.

"He sounded so good that I blurted out, 'Oh my God, they found Sherri,' " she said. But that was not the case.

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