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Haun Verdict May Affect Dally's Fate

Court: Legal experts outline various scenarios depending on outcome of the trial. One lawyer says she could be asked to testify against her lover.

September 21, 1997|MACK REED and TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Their lives were entwined--unquestionably in romance and allegedly in murder.

But now that Diana Haun's fate rests in the hands of a jury, legal experts say the outcome of her murder trial could set her and longtime lover Michael Dally on opposite paths.

When Dally, a 37-year-old grocery clerk, goes on trial on charges of murder and conspiracy in the slaying of his wife, Sherri, he could see Haun called as a witness to testify against him, said retired attorney George Eskin, a former prosecutor and defense lawyer.

"There are so many options that could occur here," Eskin said.

If she is acquitted of all charges, Haun would no longer be protected by 5th Amendment rights against self-incrimination, and prosecutors could force her to testify against Dally, he said.

And if Haun is convicted of all counts and exposed to a possible death sentence, prosecutors might be willing to waive the penalty phase of the trial and guarantee her a prison sentence of life without parole if she agrees to testify against Dally, Eskin said.

"It gets pretty tricky here, because is she going to cooperate if she's acquitted?" Eskin said. "Her attorney's state of mind is to blame Dally for orchestrating the whole thing, but we don't know if that's her state of mind."

For six weeks, jurors in Haun's murder trial listened to testimony about the adulterous two-year affair that she and Dally flaunted to his wife, Sherri. Prosecutors say the lovers eventually tired of the love triangle and decided to take Sherri out of the picture.

They plotted an elaborate murder scheme to kidnap Sherri Dally while she was shopping, stab her and dump her body in a remote area where it would never be found, prosecutors told the jury. But the plan hit a snag, they say, when a search party found the body 26 days later.

Throughout the criminal investigation and even after they were arrested, Dally and Haun continued their love affair. But that may have begun to crumble when Haun shared a jail cell with a prostitute this year and learned that Dally had slept with several prostitutes behind her back, according to court testimony.

Her lawyers told the jury in closing arguments last week that Haun was betrayed, set up and used by Michael Dally. They charged that he was the mastermind of the killing and that Haun had no knowledge of his sinister plans.

Whether she would testify to those allegations during his trial remains a question.

"She doesn't have to agree to be interviewed [before the trial] by the district attorney investigators, and I wonder if they'd put her on the stand without finding out what she would say," Eskin said.

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If the jury convicts Haun of first-degree murder and at least one of the special circumstances alleged in the case, Haun would face either a death sentence or life in prison without the possibility of parole, said Professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the USC School of Law.

The special circumstances charges--leveled against both Dally and Haun--are that the defendants killed Sherri Dally for financial gain and while lying in wait.

Since the allegations--if found to be true--would make their client eligible for the death penalty, Haun's defense attorneys argued at length on the subject during closing arguments.

On the allegation of financial gain, Deputy Public Defender Neil Quinn told the jury that Haun was not motivated by money and would not necessarily have profited from Sherri Dally's death.

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But prosecutors say Michael Dally and Haun killed Sherri, in part, to collect on a $50,000 life insurance policy and about $4,000 worth of retirement funds.

But the jury does not have to find that Haun personally would have profited by killing Dally for the allegation to be found true, according to jury instructions.

The law states only that the defendant "believed the death of the victim would result in the desired financial gain," either for herself or someone else.

Legal instructions on the allegation of lying in wait are more complicated. Lying in wait is defined as "waiting and watching for an opportune time to act, together with a concealment by ambush or some other secret design to take the other person by surprise," according to the state's jury instructions.

In addressing the subject in his closing argument last week, Quinn likened a lying-in-wait scenario to a movie western in which the bad guy hides behind a rock and pops out to gun down an unsuspecting victim.

But the circumstance cannot be found true if there is a "clear interruption" separating the period of lying in wait from the period during which the killing takes place, Quinn stressed to the jury.

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It is that subtle nuance in the law that makes the circumstance not applicable in Haun's trial, Quinn argues, because no one knows whether an interruption occurred before Sherri Dally was slain.

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