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'I'm Just a Normal, Average Person'


If anyone had cared to write it, Diana Haun's biography up until May 6, 1996 would have made for a slim volume, describing a life writ small:

Shy, promising Port Hueneme schoolgirl survives a head injury to excel in college.

She coasts somewhat aimlessly into adulthood.

And her days--publicly distinguished by little more than pink-collar drudgery and an affair with a married man--seem to be headed toward an unremarkable future.

But that affair with fellow deli clerk Michael Dally became a hub upon which Diana Haun's life slowly began to whirl.

It wrapped her up inextricably in a murder prosecution over the brutal slaying of his wife, Sherri Dally, a Ventura day-care center operator and mother of two.

It bared Haun's life to public scrutiny during her six-week trial, tarring her with accusations of kidnapping and a grisly murder, not to mention witchcraft, drug use and adultery.

And it transformed her from mousy deli clerk to potential Death Row inmate.

"I'm just a normal, average person," Haun insisted to a reporter before her arrest last summer. "I go to work, I went to school, I mind my own business."

But 2 1/2 months later, she was under indictment, accused of kidnapping Sherri Dally, bludgeoning her to death with an ax and ditching her mutilated body in a canyon northwest of Ventura.

And the heavy press coverage of her prosecution and trial has ensured that it will be difficult for Diana Haun to be perceived as "a normal, average person" ever again.

On Friday, Haun was found guilty of murder, kidnapping, conspiracy and other charges that could send her to the execution chamber at San Quentin.

Until the day she stabbed and bludgeoned Sherri Dally to death, Diana Haun had lived an unremarkable life.

Born in 1961 from the stable marriage of a Pearl Harbor veteran and his Japanese bride, shy Diana grew into a promising student.

As a sophomore at Port Hueneme High in 1977, she suffered an injury that could figure into her defense when the penalty phase of her trial begins Oct. 20: A basketball backboard collapsed, striking a glancing blow to her head that left her in a coma for three days with a bleeding brain--and resulted in a lawsuit settlement that provides her with $1,077 a month until age 65.

She was able to shrug that off--at least well enough to maintain a B average at Hueneme High, hoist herself twice onto the Oxnard College dean's list and score high in a U.S. Postal Service employment exam.

But she did admit to a reporter, "Memory-wise, I guess you could say I don't have as much RAM as the next person, random access memory."

She was a quiet, reliable tenant, according to one landlord, and at least one co-worker described her as "mousy . . . innocent and childlike."

And Haun's foray into the working world took her through a series of service-sector jobs--clerk, waitress, bank teller, vending-machine stocker, postal worker--that seemed to lead nowhere in particular.

It was at the last of these jobs--the night shift on the deli counter at the Vons on Rose Avenue in Oxnard--that Diana Haun met Michael Dally in December 1993.

They began an affair about six or seven months later, once Haun was convinced that Dally did not love his wife and the marriage was irreparable, Haun once told The Times.

And they even moved in to live together for five months in 1995--until Michael Dally returned home to be with his sons, telling Haun he did not want them left alone with their mother.

Haun said she was drawn to Dally because he treated her with respect--unlike some men, who had apparently considered her a "trophy" to be shown off in public.

Haun became uncommonly close to Dally, writing him love letters several pages long and once signing a document that pledged her body and her life to him.

But Haun also showed a darker side to co-workers.

She told The Times about an April Fool's joke she played on a Vons co-worker, sending the woman a fake letter from a men's magazine that ridiculed the woman's body.

She has acknowledged having used cocaine while with Dally, and co-workers testified that she had claimed to be dabbling in witchcraft.

One fellow clerk, Teresa Estrella, testified about Haun: "She had told me she cast a spell on some girl. I think it was a price check lady. She made it sound like it was successful because the lady went on a leave of absence."

Estrella recalled asking whether Haun had ever performed a human sacrifice.

"She told me no, but she was thinking about doing one," testified Estrella. "She told me she had someone in mind. She told me she had a male friend's birthday coming up and he had someone in mind."

Haun has said she believes Dally did not make adultery a common practice, although he admitted having one other affair during his last nine years of marriage.

But witnesses at her trial testified that Dally cheated on his wife--and cheated on Haun--with other women, including a prostitute.

Prosecutors allege that Dally and Haun conspired together to kill Sherri Dally so that they could be alone together without the cost of a financially ruinous divorce.

In a telephone interview with The Times last year, Haun said, "I am innocent, I had nothing to do with it."

On Friday, the jury disagreed.

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