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Man Convicted of Masterminding Wife's Murder

Court: Ventura jury finds Michael Dally manipulated girlfriend to carry out slaying. He could get death penalty.

April 07, 1998|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VENTURA — After a seven-week trial marked by allegations of drug use and prostitution, a 37-year-old Oxnard grocery clerk was found guilty Monday of first-degree murder for plotting with his girlfriend to murder his wife.

After four days of deliberations, the jury found Michael Dally guilty of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy plus two special-circumstance allegations making him eligible for the death penalty.

Prosecutors had little direct evidence linking Dally to the brutal 1996 slaying and presented a complex case based on circumstantial evidence.

They depicted Dally as a dead-end, drug-using grocery clerk who preyed on weak women, bought sex from prostitutes and finally convinced one of his conquests--Diana Haun--to savagely murder his wife.

Dally stood with his chin high and his back straight as the verdicts were read. He did not flinch as a crowd of spectators outside the courthouse erupted in cheers when the word "guilty" was broadcast on live radio.

Inside the courtroom, Dally's father and two nieces looked stunned by the verdicts.

Seated a few feet away, relatives of his slain wife, Sherri, clasped hands and wiped away tears. After the jury was excused, they collapsed in each other's arms.

"It was a just verdict," Karlyne Guess, Sherri Dally's mother, said as she pushed her way through a crowd of reporters and television cameras.

Outside the courtroom, Dally's niece Hannah Murray broke into tears, thinking about how Dally's two sons--9-year-old Devon and 8-year-old Max--would react.

"I'm really upset because now I have to go home and tell Devon," said Murray, slumping against a courtroom wall and adding that the boy's birthday is this week. "He already knows something about what's going on, but now I've got to tell him this."

The jury's decision came nearly two years after Sherri Dally, 35, was kidnapped and fatally stabbed by Dally's longtime lover.

Haun was convicted of murder last year and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Dally could face the same penalty if the jury decides to spare him execution.

Prosecutors charged Haun and Dally as co-conspirators, arguing that he plotted the murder and manipulated Haun to carry it out for him.

With a second victory in the high-profile case, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Michael Bradbury walked out of the courtroom smiling and showed a thumbs-up sign to the crowd.

"Justice was served today," he said. "I'm very proud of my team. They did a great job. It was a tough case, but they did a great job."

The jury's decision capped a trial in which prosecutors argued that Dally hated his wife but was unwilling to suffer the financial consequences of a divorce. Instead, they argued, he convinced Haun to commit murder for him.

Defense attorneys told the jury that their client played no role in his wife's slaying. They described Haun as an obsessive mistress who killed Sherri Dally to steal her husband.

More than 100 witnesses testified, including Dally's relatives, co-workers and family friends. They recalled the cruel way in which Dally treated his wife of 14 years, calling her fat and cursing at her, and described his nonchalant demeanor after her disappearance.

The penalty phase of his trial is scheduled to begin next week.

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