Why a woman put a shotgun to the head of her sleeping husband and pulled the trigger may never be known, a justice said before sentencing the murderer to more than two decades in jail.
Dale Lee Vella shot 52-year-old Mark Anthony Vella while he slept at their home in Murrumbateman on 9 August 2021.
“It is an entirely serious thing for a man to be shot at close range while he was sleeping peaceful in his own bed,” Justice Helen Wilson told the NSW Supreme Court on Friday (14 July).
“This is a crime of extreme violence.”
Dale was sentenced to a total of 24 years’ jail, ending in 2045, with a non-parole period of 18 years.
The day of the shooting had seemed normal for those who lived at their rural property.
Mark had gone to work with a friend who lived with them, David Borg, while Dale had been at home and went to look for a missing dog with their 21-year-old daughter, Georgia Vella.
That evening, Mark made dinner and he and Dale watched television before everyone went to bed.
However, Mr Borg was woken up by a loud bang before Dale knocked on his door and told him: “Call an ambulance, I’ve shot him. I was going to shoot myself, but I’ve shot him”.
Justice Wilson said Dale, a confident and capable shooter, had taken a double-barrelled shotgun from their gun safe and put it in their bedroom earlier that day.
She also loaded both barrels and put two more rounds into her slipper.
While her husband slept in their bed that night, she put the muzzle very close to his head and fired once, killing him instantly.
After Georgia saw her father’s body, she confronted her mother and asked: “What did you do?”.
“He can’t hurt us anymore,” Dale said.
“He wasn’t hurting us,” Georgia replied.
Dale admitted killing her husband, but argued she had a mental health impairment that was so substantial it should reduce her charge to manslaughter.
However, this was rejected by the jury at her trial and she was convicted of his murder.
Justice Wilson said Dale had been feeling depressed on the day of the shooting, was tearful during a call with one of her sons and didn’t eat much for dinner.
She said Dale claimed she had been psychologically abused by Mark during their 23-year marriage and at her trial had sought to portray him as possessive and controlling.
But there was no evidence to support that portrayal and much to contradict it, the justice said.
“The court does not accept the demonisation of Mr Vella,” she said.
For instance, Georgia acknowledged her father could be difficult to live with, but said she never saw any abuse between her parents.
“I truly don’t understand how she could have done this,” she said when talking about the impact her father’s death had on her earlier this month.
Justice Wilson said Dale had no prior criminal history and had played a caring role when working as a nursing assistant, but had faced sadness in her life.
She suffered a miscarriage in 2003, her youngest daughter died in 2006, then she was diagnosed with cancer in 2019 for which she received a double mastectomy and chemotherapy.
She had also started taking antidepressants before the shooting.
While Dale had tried to argue the murder had been a spontaneous crime, Justice Wilson said there was “just no information to suggest she wasn’t able to control herself”.
She said Dale was not happy and had made a decision to end her life, but that did not explain why she made a decision to end her husband’s life.
After her arrest, Dale’s son asked why she had committed her crime. She told him: “I don’t know”.
Justice Wilson said Dale had caused terrible harm to Mark, but also to others.
“The violent death of one harms many,” she said.
“So many have suffered and will continue to suffer because of the offender’s crime.”
The 54-year-old’s sentence was backdated to her arrest, which means she will be eligible for parole in February 2039, by which time she will be about 70.