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Haun Acted Alone in Slaying, Dally's Lawyers Argue

VENTURA COUNTY

March 28, 1998|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Daughter of the devil. Incarnation of evil. A whacked-out witch on a reign of terror who makes Lizzie Borden look downright tame.

Those were the descriptions of convicted killer Diana Haun that were offered in court Friday as Michael Dally's defense team continued trying to deflect the murder charges against him by blaming Haun for the 1996 slaying of his wife, Sherri.

Prosecutors contend the pair conspired to kill Sherri Dally.

But in his second day of closing arguments, attorney Robert Schwartz told the jury that his client should be acquitted because the evidence shows that Haun acted alone.

"This plan was designed, conceived and carried out by this psycho, crazed, whacked-out witch, Diana Haun," Schwartz argued during a daylong summation.

He told jurors, who could begin deliberations as early as Monday, that prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Michael Dally was involved in his wife's slaying--or even knew about it.

He said it was Haun--a woman alternately described by opposing sides as an obsessive stalker and an obedient "puppy dog"--who decided to kidnap and stab her lover's wife to keep him for herself.

"Puppy dog?" Schwartz questioned at one point during his closing argument.

"This is a puppy dog," he said, pointing first to a poster-size photo of his own brown-eyed pooch, and then to a enlarged mug shot of his client's bug-eyed mistress.

"This is Diana Haun," he hollered. "Diana Haun is crazed, mean and the personification of evil. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the real Diana Haun."

Dally, 37, is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy. He also faces two special-circumstance allegations that make him eligible for the death penalty if convicted. The allegations are that the killing was committed for financial gain and occurred while the killer was lying in wait.

While the thrust of Schwartz's summation focused on Haun, he also spent considerable time refuting arguments made by Deputy Dist. Atty. Lela Henke-Dobroth earlier this week. She will offer a rebuttal Monday.

Among the prosecution's theories is that Sherri Dally was going to leave her husband, prompting Michael Dally to quickly craft a murder scheme with Haun to prevent a financially devastating divorce.

But Schwartz said evidence offered by friends and relatives of Sherri Dally proved just the opposite.

Several friends testified they urged Sherri Dally to leave her husband because of the cruel way he treated her. But they said she was unwilling to leave the marriage.

*

Schwartz suggested the real catalyst to the slaying was a confrontation between Haun and Sherri Dally days before the killing in which the 35-year-old day-care operator warned Haun, 36, to stay away from her husband.

According to a witness who talked to Sherri Dally about the argument, Haun told her: "I'm not only going to have your husband--I'm going to have your kids as well," referring to the couple's two young sons, Devon and Max.

The witness, family friend John Avila, testified Sherri Dally told him she had responded by saying, "Over my dead body."

That remark set Haun in motion, Schwartz argued. He said his client was totally unaware of his lover's plan. During his summation, Schwartz went through a list of witnesses in the case, starting with Michael Dally's ex-girlfriend, Sallie Lowe.

Lowe had a three-year affair with Dally starting in 1989. She testified that during their relationship, Dally spoke often about how he hated his wife and wanted someone to kill her. She specifically said Dally had told her he wanted Sherri Dally to be pushed off a cliff or stabbed repeatedly.

Prosecutors have described Lowe's testimony as critical in establishing Michael Dally's alleged murderous intent years before Haun had entered the picture. They say it is not a mere coincidence that Sherri Dally was stabbed to death and rolled over the edge of a steep ravine, as Dally allegedly discussed with Lowe.

But Schwartz told jurors that Lowe's testimony is unreliable. He called her a scorned ex-girlfriend who only came forward with the statements about stab wounds after the coroner had released Sherri Dally's cause of death.

The lawyer also questioned the credibility of several prostitutes who testified during the trial, suggesting that one had cut a deal for reduced bail by saying she knew the defendant.

"It's like drawing the get-out-of-jail-free card in Monopoly--'I know Michael Dally,' " he said.

According to testimony, Dally had paid for sex with prostitutes for years, including just before and after his wife's disappearance. Several of the women also said they sold or bought drugs for Dally.

"So what?" Schwartz said in his summation, telling jurors that such evidence has nothing to do with the charges in the case.

At the same time, the defense tried to paint a softer picture of the defendant, whom Schwartz said has been portrayed by prosecutors as the "scum of earth" and "lower than a rat."

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