A woman has said she cannot understand why her mother murdered her father with a shotgun and has detailed her grief at losing both her parents because of the crime.
Earlier this year, a jury found Dale Lee Vella guilty of murdering Mark Anthony Vella by shooting him in the head with a double-barrelled shotgun while he slept at their home in Murrumbateman on 9 August 2021.
She had admitted killing the 52-year-old but argued she had a mental health impairment that was so substantial it should reduce her charge to manslaughter.
At her sentencing hearing on Wednesday (5 July), her daughter, Georgia Vella, told the NSW Supreme Court that the image of her father after the shooting was etched in her mind.
“I truly don’t understand how she could have done this,” Georgia said.
She acknowledged her mother had a depressive disorder, but said “she still knew what she was doing”.
“My Dad is gone. He’s been taken from my life. My Mum is gone. She’s been taken from my life. I had already lost my little sister,” she said.
Georgia said she knows she has the support of her extended family, who have been amazing.
“But the world seems smaller. I have less family. The world is smaller,” she said.
Paul Vella wrote a statement for the court describing his younger brother, Mark, as a “top bloke” who had faced numerous challenges in his life.
He had lived with deteriorating vision, the reduced use of an arm, the death of his second daughter and Dale’s cancer diagnosis, but had continued to work throughout the challenges.
Paul also claimed Dale had created friction between him and his brother.
“Mark always supported his wife and defended her if needed. I couldn’t say the same about her support of him,” he said.
Georgia described her father as a larrikin who loved a good joke and enjoyed outdoor activities with his friends and family.
“He was a loving man and loved his grandkids,” she said.
“My heart aches that we are all missing out on his love.”
She said she is still angry about what happened, but also said while that was so, “she’s still my mother and some people may not understand that I can still feel love for her”.
Justice Helen Wilson thanked those who had given the victim impact statements.
“It takes a great deal of courage to make those very personal expressions of grief available to the court,” she said.
During the trial, it was alleged that Dale had a shell in her shotgun as well as spares in her shoes and placed the weapon’s muzzle about 30 cm from her snoring husband’s head when she shot him.
“It was such a violent way to kill a person,” Justice Wilson said on Wednesday.
Dale sought help immediately after the shooting and apologised to her daughter within minutes.
When asked about the events of that evening, Dale said all she remembered was “drifting” through the wall, resting on a chair, and then being taken outside in handcuffs by police while hearing her daughter call out, “Mummy”.
She did claim Mark emotionally abused her during their relationship.
On Wednesday, her barrister, Greg Hoare, said the main issue on sentencing seemed to be the spectrum of his client’s mental health impairment and whether it was causative of the murder. He argued it was, while the prosecution disagreed.
Justice Wilson said she didn’t think there was any dispute that Dale was depressed but questioned if it went far enough to make it a contributing factor.
“Lots of people in the community have depression … but continue to function,” she said.
“I struggle to see how it explains what happened this night.”
Mr Hoare replied, “Perhaps there’s no explanation”.
He also argued that there was no evidence for the judge to form a view that it was a premeditated killing.
“This was an ongoing depressive mood … highlighted by the days preceding it,” he said.
Justice Wilson adjourned to obtain a health report to 14 July. Dale, who is now aged in her mid-50s, is in custody.