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The Canberra Times
The Canberra Times
Tim Piccione

'Walking on eggshells all my life': Killer alleges emotionally abusive marriage

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

A woman accused of murdering her husband as he slept in their Murrumbateman home lived in fear of his "temper", a court has heard.

Dale Lee Vella, 54, broke down in tears multiple times as she gave evidence before a NSW Supreme Court jury on Tuesday.

"I felt like I was walking on eggshells all my life," she said.

The woman does not deny fatally shooting her husband of 23 years, Mark Vella, on August 9, 2021, but is claiming she was substantially mentally impaired on the night of the incident.

Vella has pleaded not guilty to murder and said she would accept the lesser charge of manslaughter if it was laid.

The man's temper could be set off by anything and would leave Vella "reeling", the court heard on Tuesday.

"There's not enough beer in the fridge, the house isn't clean, dinner's not ready," Vella said.

"It frightened me when he yelled at you and he was in your face."

But the deceased man's biggest trigger, Vella said, was money.

The family's air conditioning business was reportedly in $250,000 of debt prior to the shooting.

Vella admitted lying to her husband, who was legally blind, about the couple's personal and business financial difficulties "to stop him being angry".

"It felt like self-preservation at the time," she said.

The deceased man's temper was acknowledged by several witnesses throughout the trial, including his brother, Vella's children and a family friend.

All of them testified they had never seen the man be physically violent towards Vella.

The alleged offender told the court her husband had, on occasion, been physically threatening towards her, including once pushing her onto a bed and preventing her from leaving a room during an argument about money.

"You'll sit here and you'll listen to me. I could bash you and go to jail and it'd be worth it," Vella alleged her husband said during the incident.

The accused alleged further emotional abuse perpetrated by her husband, including saying she was a "horrible person" who was "lucky" to be with him, or degrading her if she made mistakes.

He was said to have blamed Vella for her 2019 breast cancer diagnosis.

"He said it was my fault because I didn't get checked when he told me to," she said.

The diagnosis led to Vella's double mastectomy.

"He told me sex was useless now, what was the point," she said.

"He said to me, 'might as well roll you over and screw you from behind because you look like a bloke with that chest'."

Defence barrister Greg Hoare opened the trial by telling the jury Vella had for years been subject to "coercive control".

"It destroyed her emotionally. It destroyed her psychologically," Mr Hoare said last week.

The court heard on Tuesday the alleged offender still had anxiety when her phone rang in case she was "not where I'm supposed to be".

"The phone could ring 10 or 12 times a day [during the marriage], if not more," Vella said.

Vella faced cross-examination on Tuesday afternoon, during which she told prosecutor Kate Ratcliffe she did not remember shooting her husband in the head.

"Your memory is very selective," the prosecutor said to Vella.

"You knew that you wanted to kill him and you did."

Ms Ratcliffe described the fatal shooting as "deliberate, carefully chosen, focused".

Vella affirmed on Tuesday she intended to kill herself on the night.

"I wanted to die, I wanted to kill myself," she said.

"I don't remember ever turning the gun on my husband.

"I still find it hard believe that he's dead."

  • Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; 1800-RESPECT 1800 737 732.
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