March 4, 2010

Murder suspect uses insanity defense



Staff Writer

ALFRED — Richard Dalli's behavior when he stabbed John Wheeler a year ago was clearly bizarre. A jury in York County Superior Court will have to decide whether it indicates he was insane.

Dalli's murder trial began Tuesday with his attorney focusing on his behavior around the time of the stabbing, which occurred after Dalli apparently spent most of Labor Day weekend drinking at his house in York. Sarah Churchill said she will argue that her client is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Prosecutors put the focus on Dalli's history of becoming combative when he was drunk and his use -- and occasional abuse -- of methadone, a pain reliever that tends to cause lethargic behavior.

The trial opened with Wheeler's girlfriend, Clair Cardin, who said she had been friendly with Dalli for years, offering eyewitness testimony.

She described a small party at Dalli's house, where the drinking continued until about 2 a.m., when Dalli started pressuring Wheeler for sex. Cardin said Dalli even offered Wheeler money to let Dalli lie on top of him and fondle him.

Cardin said she and Wheeler laughed off Dalli's behavior, even though ''he was relentless -- he was begging'' for sex for about 10 minutes.

The discussion eventually turned, with Wheeler and Dalli talking about a sword that Dalli had in his house. Dalli mentioned a machete, Cardin said, then went to the kitchen and returned with the large knife.

Wheeler knocked Dalli down and took the knife away, but nicked his finger on the blade in the process, Cardin said.

Wheeler tossed the machete to Cardin and told her to hide it -- she put it in a nearby drawer -- then went looking for a towel to wrap around his finger, she said.

Dalli went back to the kitchen and returned with a large knife, sliced Wheeler across the stomach and then plunged the knife into Wheeler's heart, Cardin said.

Dalli was emotionless the whole time, Cardin said, then said he was going to kill the ''two boys downstairs,'' referring to a young man who rented the basement and the renter's friend.

But the door was locked, Cardin said, and Dalli instead began washing blood off the knife blade in the kitchen sink. The renter, David Young, came upstairs, saw a body in the living room and ran back downstairs and outdoors, calling police.

Officers responding to the call ordered both Cardin and Dalli to lie on the kitchen floor and handcuffed them while they checked on Wheeler and looked for other victims or suspects.

While they were still handcuffed and on the floor, Cardin said, Dalli started telling police that he was the victim of a home invasion and that he had defended himself by stabbing the intruders.

Cardin called him a liar, and Dalli ''turned his head and he winked,'' she said. ''I took it like, 'I'll get away with it, you watch and see.' ''

Police said Dalli made several bizarre statements, threatening to kill the officers if they didn't remove his handcuffs.

Dalli said, ''If you don't get me out of these handcuffs, I'll do to you what I did to him,'' said York police officer Scott Slawson.

Later, Dalli asked, ''Did I kill that kid? Tell me the truth,'' Slawson said.

The prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Marchese, asked the officers who responded to the stabbing if Dalli had ever indicated he had heard voices or seen visions. They said no.

Churchill said Dalli suffers from schizoaffective disorder, a mental illness that she said can lead to hallucinations, paranoia, depression and anxiety.

She said she will also argue that jurors should consider a reduced charge of manslaughter, saying that Dalli had so much to drink that weekend that he couldn't make the willful decision to commit a murder.

The trial is expected to go to the jury by the end of this week.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

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