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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Tim Piccione

Why wife 'violently ended' husband's life may never be known

Dale Vella, who was sentenced on Friday, and husband Mark Vella. Picture Facebook

A woman who killed her sleeping husband will spend at least 18 years behind bars after a judge said it may never be known why the women committed the "crime of extreme violence".

"With much to live for, and aged only about 50, Mr Vella's life was violently ended when he was shot dead by his wife," Justice Helen Wilson said on Friday.

"We are all diminished by the violent and too early death of a member of the community."

Dale Lee Vella, 54, was sentenced to 24 years in jail in the NSW Supreme Court after a jury found the Murrumbateman woman guilty of murder in April.

Justice Wilson described the deceased man, Mark Anthony Vella, as having been "entirely vulnerable in sleep" when his wife of 23 years shot him in the right eye on the night of August 9, 2021.

"It is an extremely serious thing for a man to be shot at close range while he slept peacefully in his own bed by a powerful firearm like a shotgun," Justice Wilson said.

Vella never denied shooting her husband but maintained her initial intent was to kill herself that winter night and that she was substantially mentally impaired enough to reduce her moral culpability to manslaughter.

Dale and Mark Vella. Picture Facebook

As Crown prosecutor Kate Ratcliffe had argued, the court concluded Vella had an "intention to kill" her husband with the act.

"I've shot him. I was going to shoot myself but I've shot him," Vella said to family friend David Borg after the incident.

Justice Wilson said evidence presented, such as internet searches about suicide, spare cartridges in her slipper and telling her daughter "he can't hurt us anymore" were consistent with a possible murder-suicide.

"She probably planned to kill herself, whether she intended to also kill her husband is not known beyond a reasonable doubt," the judge said on Friday.

Defence barrister Greg Hoare told the court his client had been subjected to years of emotional abuse and coercive control.

The judge said she did not "accept the demonisation of Mr Vella" and "the court does not accept that he was in fact abusive, controlling or violent towards [the offender]".

Justice Wilson described Vella's account of her husband's abusive behaviour as "inconsistent, contradictory and disputed by others".

On the two-week trial's key question, the judge concluded there was "no evidence" supporting Vella's defence that she was substantially impaired when she killed her husband.

The crime scene on Murrumbateman Road in August 2021. Picture by Elesa Kurtz

On the advice of expert witnesses, the judge accepted Vella was depressed on the night in question, affecting her decision-making process, and that some reduction of her moral culpability was warranted.

"None of that explains why she made a decision to end her husband's life," Justice Wilson said.

"So many have suffered and will continue to suffer because of the offender's crime."

With a non-parole period of 18 years, Vella will be eligible for release from custody in August 2039.

  • Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; MensLine 1300 789 978; beyondblue 1300 224 636; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.
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