21 April 2023

UPDATED: Wife who shot sleeping husband in head found guilty of murder

| Albert McKnight
selfie of woman

Dale Lee Vella was found guilty of murdering Mark Anthony Vella. Photo: Facebook.

UPDATED, Friday 4 pm: A wife who used a double-barrelled shotgun to shoot her sleeping husband in the head at close range has been found guilty of his murder.

Dale Lee Vella faced a NSW Supreme Court jury trial accused of murdering her husband, Mark Anthony Vella, while he slept at their home in Murrumbateman on 9 August 2021.

While the 54-year-old admitted killing him, jurors had to decide whether she had a mental health impairment that was so substantial she should have her liability reduced from murder to manslaughter.

Jurors deliberated for less than one day before returning to court on Friday afternoon (21 April) and delivering a verdict of guilty to murder.

Vella, who is in custody, will return to court for her sentencing hearing on 5 July.

EARLIER: A wife who allegedly held a gun centimetres away from her husband’s head when she shot him as he lay snoring in bed “wanted to remove him from the family”, jurors heard at the end of her trial.

Dale Lee Vella has been facing a NSW Supreme Court jury trial, which began last week, accused of murdering her husband, Mark Anthony Vella, at their home in Murrumbateman on 9 August 2021.

“She shot him because she wanted to remove him from the family because she felt he was emotionally abusive,” prosecutor Kate Ratcliffe alleged in her closing address on Thursday (20 April).

She said Ms Vella had a shell in her double-barrelled shotgun as well as spares in her shoes, and an expert alleged she placed the weapon’s muzzle about 30 cm from her husband’s head when she shot him through the eye.

Ms Ratcliffe said she sought help immediately afterwards and apologised to her daughter within minutes.

While Ms Vella claimed she had no memory of the shooting when she gave evidence on Tuesday, Ms Ratcliffe said that three days after the incident, she told a prison officer her husband had been snoring before she shot him.

“She knows what she did in that bedroom,” the prosecutor claimed.

READ ALSO Arrest over alleged death threats to Brittany Higgins and David Sharaz

Ms Vella’s barrister Greg Hoare played a video his client had recorded on the morning of the shooting during his closing address.

“I’m sorry guys, I just can’t live like this any more,” she said through tears in the footage.

“I’ve let him abuse you emotionally for years and I’ve never protected you. I’m sorry I left everything in such a mess.

“I’ve tried leaving. I’ve tried pushing him away. It won’t work. He won’t listen.”

Mr Hoare then told jurors, “If that is a deception, that is an Academy Award-winning performance”.

He said Ms Vella had been a nurses aid for many years and was a carer by nature. The main person she cared for was her legally blind husband, whose sight problems continued over the 23 years of their marriage.

Mr Hoare claimed that while she was caring for him, he was verbally, emotionally and psychologically abusing her.

He said subcontractors who lived on the couple’s property described Ms Vella as being quiet, distant and sad in the lead-up to the shooting.

Also, her phone’s internet search history showed she had looked for “where do you shoot yourself to die quickly” the night before the shooting.

Mr Hoare suggested she had been looking for the most painless way to end her life.

READ ALSO Witness J sentence decision finally released, but secrecy remains due to numerous redactions

He argued it was “rubbish” to say she knew what happened in the bedroom that night and the suggestion that it was a planned execution was “unsupportable by any of the evidence”.

He suggested his client was deeply in the throes of a depressive illness that affected her ability to understand what was happening and to control herself.

Mr Hoare said Ms Vella was not trying to escape responsibility for what she had done, admitting “she took her husband’s life”, and asked jurors to return a verdict of guilty to manslaughter.

Ms Ratcliffe agreed that Ms Vella had a mental impairment at the time of the shooting, with an expert saying she had an adjustment disorder with a depressed mood.

She also said Ms Vella may have felt her husband was domineering and controlling, but she argued there was not enough evidence to find she had a mental health impairment that could substantially impair her capacity to understand events, judge right from wrong or control herself.

She said Ms Vella may have felt justified in shooting Mr Vella, but that did not satisfy the criteria for her special defence.

“Even if you were to feel sympathy for the accused, as no doubt you probably do as you are human … that doesn’t justify you, members of the jury, in acting on that sympathy in coming to your verdict,” she told jurors.

READ ALSO Drunk mother who’d learned of ill husband’s affair attacked manager at 88mph

She also said jurors might think Ms Vella had been exaggerating the claims she made about what her husband had done to her as well as deliberately trying to present him in a “poor light”.

When Justice Helen Wilson gave her instructions to jurors, she said the question was whether Ms Vella’s mental impairment was so substantial that she should have her liability for the killing reduced from murder to manslaughter.

Jurors are expected to begin their deliberations today.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.