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Defense Rests Case in Haun Murder Trial

Courts: Lawyers seek to discredit prosecution's circumstantial evidence. Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday.

September 13, 1997|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Defense attorneys rested their case in the murder trial of Diana Haun on Friday, concluding testimony in one of the most notorious trials in Ventura County history.

Judge Frederick A. Jones excused the jury early Friday afternoon after prosecutors concluded a brief rebuttal. The jury is scheduled to return Wednesday for closing arguments.

Haun's trial was originally estimated to last several months, but came to a close after six weeks of testimony. More than 120 witnesses addressed the jury and more than 300 exhibits were received.

After the last witness spoke Friday, those exhibits were spread out around the courtroom for the jury to see before closing arguments begin next week.

As she has throughout most of the trial, on Friday Haun sat motionless, with her hands folded in her lap, as three final witnesses took the stand.

The 36-year-old Port Hueneme grocery clerk could be given a death sentence if the jury finds her guilty of fatally stabbing and bludgeoning her lover's wife, Ventura homemaker Sherri Dally.

Although she stood just a few feet from the jury during a courtroom demonstration this week, Haun never took the witness stand to address the charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy.

Prosecutors say Haun carried out an elaborate plot crafted with her lover, Michael Dally, to get rid of his wife.

Sherri Dally was abducted from the parking lot of a Ventura Target store May 6, 1996. Witnesses saw a blond woman in a tan pantsuit snap handcuffs on Dally's wrists that morning before putting her into the back seat of a blue-green sedan.

Dally's remains were found 26 days later in a steep ravine between Ventura and Ojai.

During the trial, prosecutors put together a detailed puzzle of circumstantial evidence--purchases, eyewitness descriptions and phone records--allegedly linking Haun to the kidnap-slaying.

They called employees from a uniform store in Ventura, who said a woman bought a badge and handcuffs a few days before Sherri Dally was abducted.

An Oxnard wig shop employee testified that Haun bought a blond wig May 4, 1996. Receipts show that she bought a tan pantsuit, camping ax, garbage bags and canvas shoes at Kmart the same day.

On May 5, Haun rented a teal-colored Nissan Altima. The same car was later recovered by authorities with the back seat soaked with Sherri Dally's blood, according to the results of DNA tests.

In opening statements, prosecutor Michael Frawley told the jury that Haun wore the wig and pantsuit to disguise herself from Sherri Dally. He said the defendant waited in the rental car outside Target and kidnapped Dally when she exited, possibly by posing as a security guard.

Prosecutors theorize that Haun then bludgeoned Dally with the ax and stabbed her with a knife before dumping her body in a ravine off Canada Larga Road.

But defense attorneys argue that there is no direct evidence to support the prosecution's theory.

No one identified Haun as the kidnapper during the trial. And no scientific evidence, such as blood or hair, was found in the car to put the defendant at the scene of the crime.

During their case, which lasted about five days, defense attorneys tried to show that their client does not match the description of the blond woman who abducted Sherri Dally.

The victim stood 5 feet 7. The suspect was described by witnesses as being 5 feet 3. Haun is 5 feet 5.

During a demonstration in court Thursday, Deputy Public Defenders Neil Quinn and Susan Olson dressed Haun in a blond wig and canvas shoes similar to the ones purchased by the defendant.

When they measured her height in the wig and wearing shoes, Haun stood at 5 feet 7.

During direct examination of their own 47 witnesses, as well as cross-examination of the prosecution's witnesses, defense attorneys sought to discredit the testimony of Haun's co-workers and other individuals.

They called into question statements by one Vons employee who said Haun told her she was a witch who cast spells and was interested in performing a human sacrifice.

They also called two women who contradicted the testimony of their friend, Samantha Spencer, who said she saw Haun sitting in a blue-green car beneath the highway overpass on Canada Larga Road hours after Sherri Dally was reported missing.

Jennifer Sajonia told the jury she had no idea whether the woman in the car was Haun, and Tracy Girt described the person she saw on the shoulder of the road that morning as being a blond woman in an older tan sedan.

In addition to trying to chip away at the prosecution's case, defense attorneys tried to paint Michael Dally as a manipulative man who took drugs, slept with prostitutes and wanted his wife dead.

They called a prostitute and two other women who had sex with Dally to the witness stand. And they attempted to show that their client--like Sherri Dally--was also betrayed by the man she loved.

Attorneys and the judge plan to meet Monday and Tuesday to decide what instructions should be given to the jurors to guide them in their deliberations. Closing arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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