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Deliberations Start in Penalty Phase of Dally Trial

Court: In his summation, defense attorney James Farley argues that execution would be an act of vengeance.

April 23, 1998|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After more than two days of dramatic testimony and intense closing arguments, jurors began deliberations Wednesday in the penalty trial of convicted killer Michael Dally.

The jury--charged with deciding whether Dally should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole for the murder of his wife--deliberated for about five hours without reaching a verdict.

The deliberations, which are expected to continue today, followed a compelling, hourlong summation by defense attorney James M. Farley.

Standing before the jury in a black suit, Farley urged the panel to spare his client's life and argued that voting for death in this case would be an act of vengeance.

"What does the death of Mr. Dally accomplish? Does it bring satisfaction to the Guesses?" he said, referring to the family of murder victim Sherri Dally. "Does it bring satisfaction to the community?"

The death penalty, Farley argued, is an instrument of vengeance that will do nothing to heal the wounds opened when the 35-year-old day care provider was beaten and fatally stabbed nearly two years ago.

"We have in our society a cycle of violence that goes on and on and on," he said. "When are we going to stop it? Maybe it stops with you."

The lawyer's words closed the penalty phase of the trial, which took a dramatic turn this week when the 37-year-old defendant took the stand to tell jurors his side of the story.

Two weeks after jurors found Dally guilty of planning the kidnapping and murder of his wife, the former grocery store worker denied any involvement in the killing, which was carried out by his ex-lover and co-conspirator, Diana Haun. She was convicted of murder and related crimes last fall and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Wiping away tears at one point during his testimony, Dally said he had loved his spouse deeply and regretted treating her badly during their 14-year marriage.

Even amid harsh questioning by prosecutors, who kept him on the stand for nearly two days of cross-examination, Dally maintained that he had never talked to Haun about killing his wife and had had no idea of her intentions.

Haun, 36, kidnapped Sherri Dally from the parking lot of a Ventura Target store May 6, 1996, and dumped her body in a steep ravine north of the city after beating and stabbing her to death.

At the end of his testimony, Dally exploded in a furious outburst and criticized prosecutors for questioning his children, Devon and Max, about their mother's slaying a week after her remains were discovered.

The two boys, now ages 10 and 8, were referred to at length during Farley's closing argument Wednesday.

The children were turned into innocent victims by their mother's death, Farley said. He asked the jury whether they should be made victims again by the state's taking of their father's life.

"My concern at this moment, and since your verdict, is for the boys and the Dally family, because there is nothing more we can do for Michael," he argued. "They are the only ones that something can be done for."

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