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Haun Verdict Is Met With Laughs, Tears

Reaction: Friends of murder victim Sherri Dally find relief. Investigators congratulate each other. But defendant's family is ashen-faced after the decision.

September 27, 1997|MACK REED | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The detectives laughed and hugged and laughed some more.

The victim's mother wept, then smiled.

The defendant's family sat still in the courtroom, ashen-faced.

The co-defendant's lawyer looked glum, saying only, "The jury has spoken."

After a six-week trial and 4 1/2 days of deliberations, the jury returned its verdict just after 2 p.m. Friday, convicting Diana Haun of conspiracy, kidnapping and murder in the slaying of Ventura mother Sherri Dally.

Jurors are to return Oct. 20 for the penalty phase of the trial to decide whether to recommend that Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Jones give Haun the death penalty or a life prison sentence without parole.

Meanwhile, Michael Dally, the defendant's lover and the victim's husband, awaits his own trial on similar charges. While Haun cannot be forced to testify against him, thus giving up her rights to avoid self-incrimination pending a possible appeal, prosecutors might persuade her to take the stand to avoid a death sentence.

The news of Haun's conviction spread quickly across Ventura County via newscast and word of mouth.

At the Vons supermarket on Channel Islands Boulevard where Haun used to work as a deli clerk, telephones began to ring.

"I always thought she did it; she gets what she deserves," said employee Jason Fischer, who knew Sherri Dally when she worked at the Vons on Thompson Boulevard in Ventura. "I feel sorry for [Michael and Sherry Dally's] kids. Chances are they will lose [Michael Dally] too. . . . It's got to be kind of hard knowing your dad's girlfriend axed mom."

A bakery clerk who knew Haun sat in his beat-up El Camino in the Vons lot after work, smoking a cigarette as he listened to radio coverage of the verdict--and the penalty phase that will follow, when jurors will decide whether Haun deserves the death penalty. The clerk wept softly.

"It doesn't surprise me," said the man, who identified himself only as Pat. "There was so much evidence that was put forward; the outcome was not surprising. . . . You think you know somebody and find out you were wrong."

For friends of the victim, the news came as a relief.

Gary Aanerud said the investigation and trial had seemed surreal. He was worried that justice might not come to the woman who murdered his friend.

"Anybody could see that with all this evidence, it could only lead to one person," said Aanerud, who helped organize the search that found Sherri Dally's mutilated remains in a ravine north of Ventura.

"As the week started progressing and the jury was still out, I started getting worried [that] they found areas of the evidence that were inconsistent and she might be found not guilty or that she would get off on [lesser] charges," he said.

After the verdict, members of the Ventura police detective team that made the Sherri Dally slaying their full-time job emerged from the courtroom and clapped each other on the back. They grinned broadly, then erupted into laughter and hugged each other, saying, "Good job! Good job!"

Sherri Dally's death had triggered the largest murder investigation in the department's history, drawing more than 30 Ventura officers and detectives into an 11-week investigation.

*

The detectives--among them major crimes Lt. Don Arth, Sgt. Gary McCaskill and Dets. Sean Conroy and Matt Harvil--took the case to heart. They attended Sherri Dally's funeral and grew close to her family.

It was Harvil and Conroy who had interviewed Haun several times after Dally's body was found.

But none of the detectives would comment after seeing her convicted. A gag order remains in effect until the end of the penalty phase for Haun and the subsequent trial of Michael Dally, who is accused of joining with Haun in the plot and slaying of his wife.

Meanwhile, relatives of Haun were led out a back door of the courtroom after the verdict to avoid the more than two dozen reporters and photographers waiting in the public hallway.

Sherri Dally's mother, Karlyne Guess, emerged into the crowded hallway near tears and hugged one of her daughter's friends after another.

*

And two hours after the verdict, co-defendant Michael Dally's father was at home trimming hedges.

He waved a reporter away with a polite smile, and others of Dally's and Haun's relatives declined to comment on the verdict.

However, courtroom spectators were quick to pass judgment now that the jury had reached its own.

Yolanda Herrera of Oxnard has visited the Haun trial every day for the last two weeks--arriving as early as 5:30 a.m. some days to gain a coveted seat in the courtroom. She was not surprised by the verdict.

"I was suspecting it, dreaming about it," Herrera said, standing on a bench, craning her neck to see who would come out of the courtroom. "With all that evidence, she was guilty!"

Herrera said she hopes that Haun gets the death penalty. But, she added, "I was kind of feeling sorry for her last night. Then I thought, I should feel sorry for Sherri, who's no longer here with her kids."

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