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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary

Effort to Reverse Verdict Focuses on Witchcraft

October 12, 2000

VENTURA — After more than a year of legal research and careful preparation, arguments over whether Diana Haun's 1997 murder conviction should be reversed boiled down to five minutes of discussion Wednesday on one lurid topic.

Witchcraft.

Attorney Barry O. Bernstein told appellate justices reviewing the murder case that allegations his 39-year-old client practiced witchcraft were gratuitous and inflamed the jury during her trial.

But Deputy Atty. Gen. Lawrence Daniels argued that the evidence was relevant because it showed Haun methodically plotted the killing of Ventura homemaker Sherri Dally as a gift to her lover, Michael Dally.

These arguments on Wednesday before the 2nd District Court of Appeal hit on one of the most sensational aspects of Haun's trial, although her lawyers have raised several other issues that they believe warrant a reversal of the case.

Haun's lawyers contend that Superior Court Judge Frederick Jones erred by not allowing jurors to consider a lesser verdict of second-degree murder. They also argue that Jones misled the jury about the definition of murder for financial gain and allowed testimony about Haun's prior affair with another married man, which they say prejudiced the jury against her.

Sherri Dally, a 35-year-old mother of two, disappeared from a department store parking lot on May 6, 1996, after witnesses saw her getting into the back seat of a car driven by a blond woman. A month later, her skeletal remains were found in the bottom of a ravine.

Haun and Michael Dally were indicted in late 1996. Dally was convicted and the jury deadlocked on giving him the death penalty. He is serving a life sentence and is appealing the conviction.

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