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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Tim Piccione

Jury finds Murrumbateman woman guilty of murdering sleeping husband

The crime scene established in August 2021 after Dale Vella, inset, shot her husband. Pictures by Elesa Kurtz, Facebook

It only took a few hours for a jury to find a Murrumbateman woman guilty of murdering her husband of 23 years as he slept in their bed.

Dale Lee Vella has been remanded in custody since the night of August 9, 2021, when she fatally shot her husband, Mark Vella, in the head using a double-barrelled shotgun.

The 54-year-old woman did not deny killing her husband but pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder.

Instead, she sought the lesser charge of manslaughter, claiming her liability was downgraded due to being substantially mentally impaired on the night of the incident.

After hearing evidence for two weeks and deliberating for less than a day, the jury returned a verdict of guilty.

With its decision, the jury believed Vella was either in control, understood events, knew her actions were wrong on the night of the incident, or a combination of the three.

The court heard several days of prosecution arguments that Vella had intended to kill her husband with a close range, "deliberate, carefully chosen, focused shot".

"It was designed to kill your husband, wasn't it, Mrs Vella?" prosecutor Kate Ratcliffe asked.

Vella maintained she had never intended to kill the man and that she could not recall the incident.

"I was going to shoot myself but I've shot him," she said immediately after the incident to a family friend sleeping in the rural NSW home.

Ms Ratcliffe also disputed the possibility that a mixture of herbal and pharmaceutical antidepressants significantly contributed to Vella's mental impairment on the night in question, a key argument the defence asked the jury to disregard by the trial's closing addresses.

No expert medical witnesses convincingly supported the claim.

Forensic psychiatrist Dr Kerri Eagle told the court earlier in the week that Vella "certainly seemed to be in control" on the night she killed her husband.

Asking the jury to return a verdict of guilty to manslaughter throughout the trial, defence barrister Greg Hoare laid out an alleged history of emotional abuse and "coercive control" perpetrated by the deceased man.

He claimed the marital discord, along with stressors like the death of Vella's young child in 2006, a 2019 breast cancer diagnosis and financial difficulties led to her severe mental impairment and suicidality.

He told the court her "suicide note" video made on the morning of the shooting proved this.

The video was one of several recordings the jury were played throughout the trial, with the triple zero call made following the shooting, police body worn camera footage and a police interview also tendered.

Vella's awareness of what she had done, apology to her daughter, justification for shooting her husband and understanding of her right to silence heard in those recordings were all used by the prosecution to prove her sound state of mind.

The woman is set to return to court for sentencing on July 5.

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