Tuesday, May 06, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Minutes after Jeb Daly admitted he killed Jessica Dana at her Huntington home in 2012, a judge heard from her oldest son, who was 10 when his mother was strangled.
Dana’s mother, Cheryl Stoothoff, stood in court Monday and in a quiet, steady voice, read a statement she attributed to her grandson.
“I feel a lot of anger because I don’t have a mother anymore. There is no mom to tuck me in at night, or to tell me that she loves me or give me hugs and kisses,” she read on behalf of the boy. “Worst of all, my brother and sister can’t see her and know how great a person she was. I always wake up startled and scared.”
Dana’s three children were not in the courtroom for Daly’s change of plea, but many other family members were present for the hourlong hearing that included emotional testimony and sobbing relatives.
Stoothoff described her own devastating loss. “This is something I thought I’d never have to do, writing an impact statement about how I feel about the murder of my own daughter,” she said. On Stoothoff’s left hand is a tattoo whose design is purple and black star with her daughter’s signature, copied from the last Mother’s Day card she received from her.
Stoothoff said Dana was born 10 weeks premature and was given last rites when she was two days old.
“Jessica had to fight for her life from day one,” she said.
She described her daughter as beautiful and kind-hearted and spoke about the impact her death has had on her grandchildren.
“Our 3-year-old grandson cries, ‘I want my mommy back,’” Stoothoff said.
“Whatever did they do to deserve this kind of life?” she said.
“I have cried every day since Jessica died, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life,” Stoothoff said.
Daly, 38, pleaded guilty Monday in Hampshire Superior Court to second-degree murder and misleading police in connection with the strangulation and beating death of Dana on June 22, 2012. He was sentenced to life in prison as part of an agreed-upon plea deal between prosecutors and his attorney, Alan Rubin of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.
When asked by Judge Bertha Josephson why he was changing his plea to guilty, Daly said, “I don’t want to drag her family or my family through the circus of a trial, because I did it. I’m guilty.”
Daly, who was given credit for 679 days of time served in custody, will be eligible to petition for parole in 15 years. Parole requests are granted at the discretion of the state’s Parole Board.
In court Monday, Assistant Northwestern District Attorney Jeremy Bucci, described the injuries Dana suffered the night she was killed, which included blows to the head and being strangled hard enough to break her neck in three places. Several people in court sobbed as Bucci described the injuries that ended Dana’s life.
Dana, who would have turned 32 on May 17, had two children with Daly and one child from a previous relationship. All three children are in the care of family members.
In a press conference following the hearing, Bucci said the plea change was supported by the family.
“While his convictions represent justice for this community, they are nevertheless a reminder of the loss that Miss Dana’s family and friends suffered and continue to endure each day,” Bucci said. “This murder is a tragic example of how domestic violence can destroy a family.”
The couple had moved into the Rocky Brook Drive home in Huntington with money borrowed from Dana’s parents, he said. They were making small payments to repay that debt.
He said Daly had fallen behind on the rent, had a federal tax lien imposed on him for failure to pay income tax that used up a significant portion of his paycheck, and had received an eviction notice.
Daly’s cocaine use was also a source of discontent between the couple, he said. Daly had made arrangements to have an acquaintance take his debit card, withdraw money with it, and make a cocaine purchase for him the night of June 22, prosecutors said.
That night, the couple invited friends to their house for drinks. After the guests left, Daly and Dana began arguing, prosecutors said. He was the last adult to be seen with her .
Bucci said the argument began over some missing cigarette lighters, then escalated and covered other topics like the couple’s finances and Daly’s drug use.
The following day when Dana’s mother arrived at the house, Bucci said, Daly was alone with the three children. He told her that Dana had left the house the previous night after a fight and hadn’t returned, although she had left her shoes, purse, phone and the children behind.
Daly agreed to call police later that day at the insistence of Dana’s family after she still had not been seen or heard from.
The next day, June 24, police at the couple’s home were interviewing Daly when friends searching behind the house found Dana’s body hidden under a tarp beneath a brush pile wrapped in blankets and stuffed in a cardboard box that originally held an inflatable pool.
Police said that once the body was discovered, Daly became extremely nervous and fled into the woods, setting off a manhunt involving police helicopters and search dogs that lasted into the evening.
Daly contacted a family member via text message about 7:15 p.m. asking to be picked up so he could “turn himself in,” according to state police.
At about 9 p.m., arrangements were made to pick Daly up at the corner of Lowell Lane and Kennedy Drive in Huntington, where he was taken into custody, police said.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.