When a wife who shot her husband of 23 years in the head as he slept was confronted by their daughter over his death, she allegedly told her, “He can’t hurt us anymore”.
Dale Lee Vella is facing a NSW Supreme Court trial accused of murdering her husband, Mark Anthony Vella, with a double-barrelled shotgun at their rural property outside Canberra on 9 August 2021.
During the trial’s opening submissions on Tuesday (11 April), the prosecutor said Mr Vella’s friend had been asleep at their home when he was woken up by a loud noise, then Ms Vella started banging on his door.
The prosecutor expected the friend would say he opened the door to find her in her pyjamas and dressing gown, and she allegedly told him, “I shot him, I was going to shoot myself, but I shot him”.
Both he and the couple’s daughter saw Mr Vella’s body in his bedroom and spoke to a Triple Zero operator.
The daughter was then recorded on the call asking her mother, “Look at what you’ve done. Why did you do this, Mum? What is going on?”
The prosecutor expected the daughter would tell jurors that her then-52-year-old mother had told her, “He can’t hurt us anymore”.
“He’s not hurting anymore,” the daughter had replied.
After Ms Vella was arrested and taken to prison, she allegedly told a prison officer that her husband had psychologically abused her and she had become isolated during their relationship.
“I was going to kill myself with a gun. I don’t know why I turned the gun on my husband,” she allegedly told the officer.
The prosecutor said the family moved to the acreage at Murrumbateman about four months before the shooting because most of the jobs for their air conditioning installation business were coming from Canberra.
Ms Vella handled the financial side of the business while it was run by the legally blind Mr Vella and his stepson.
The prosecutor claimed that the couple, both recreational shooters who had guns at their house, had arguments that were almost always about money and had discussed separating in the years leading up to the shooting, but would work it out and stay together.
She said at the time of the shooting, the business had debts of around $250,000.
She expected the couple’s daughter would say Mr Vella had been angry in the week leading up to the shooting due to the stressful business situation and had been arguing with everyone, including his wife.
Also, Ms Vella had made a recording on her phone for her children on the morning of the shooting, the prosecutor claimed.
“I’m sorry guys, I just can’t live like this any more. I’ve let him abuse you emotionally for years and I never protected you,” Ms Vella said on the recording.
“I’ve tried leaving, I’ve tried pushing him away.
“He doesn’t care about anybody other than himself.”
That evening, Mr Vella cooked the family dinner, then their daughter saw him and her mother talking to each other on the couch before she left to go to bed.
The prosecutor claimed there would be no dispute that Ms Vella had fired the gun at her husband but expected a partial defence of substantial impairment would be raised.
She anticipated defence lawyers would argue their client had been depressed at the time and had been suffering from the effects of an anti-depressant medication as well as a herbal drug called St John’s Wort.
Ms Vella’s barrister Greg Hoare agreed that his client had used a shotgun to kill her husband and said she had been willing to plead guilty to manslaughter.
But he said jurors had to decide what her state of mind was when she fired the gun and told them they would hear from experts who would talk about her thinking at that point in time.
He also said jurors would hear from his client and expected she would say that while her husband was not physically violent, he had subjected her to coercive control over many years.
“You will hear from her that Mark Vella was the boss in relation to every aspect of his and her lives,” Mr Hoare said.
He said she’d endured traumatic events in her life, like being diagnosed with breast cancer and suffering the death of a daughter due to a tumour, in addition to the financial problems at her family business.
He also expected jurors would hear about the suicide note she made before the shooting.
“Was it a cold-blooded, deliberate execution of her husband?” he asked.
“Or was it the actions of a woman with a substantial mental impairment?”
Ms Vella has pleaded not guilty to her charge of murder. The trial is expected to run for two weeks before Justice Helen Wilson.