A man who served 12 years in prison for the fatal shooting of his wife has now been charged in the killings of his parents and niece.
John Dalton Jr., of Omaha, Nebraska, was convicted in 1999 of manslaughter in the death of his 22-year-old wife, Shannon Dalton, and was released from prison in 2010. Omaha Police say Dalton, 46, is now a person of interest in the December 26 shooting deaths of his parents, John Dalton Sr., 70, and Jean Dalton, 65, and his niece, Leonna Dalton-Phillip, 18. They were found dead Tuesday night in their Omaha home.
Murder charges have been filed against Dalton, who was taken into custody Wednesday by U.S. Marshals in Tennessee.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Dalton’s Parents & Niece Were Found Dead Tuesday of Gunshot Wounds to the Head After Another Family Member Called 911
Three people, identified as John Dalton Sr., Joan Dalton and Leonna Dalton-Phillip, were found dead of gunshot wounds to the head after police responded to a 911 call at 3912 North 37th Street, the Omaha World-Herald reports. The suspect, identified as John W. Dalton Jr, lives in a home nearby. He fled from the scene before police arrived.
The shooting was reported at 7:51 p.m.
According to police scanner audio obtained by Heavy through Broadcastify.com, a juvenile girl broke into a neighbor’s house and said someone “shot my family.” The neighbor called 911 and officers, fire and medical personnel rushed to the scene. The three victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
The caller told police that multiple shots had been fired.
According to the World-Herald, a man was seen outside the home screaming into his phone, “Is my sister dead?”
KMTV reports that a girl was heard yelling at police that her father shot her grandparents before leaving the area.
2. Dalton Was Arrested in Jackson, Tennessee, the Day After the Killings
John Dalton was arrested Wednesday in Jackson, Tennessee, Omaha Police said. He was taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service with the assistance of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Dalton was believed to be driving either a black 2015 GMC Terrain with Nebraska license plate UKB78 or a red 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe with Nebraska license plate VRD559, according to scanner reports. He is considered to be armed and dangerous, and dozens of officers, including speciality units and K9s, are involved in the search. Witnesses said on Twitter that roads are shut down and a police helicopter could be heard overhead.
The Omaha Police Department said on Twitter, “If (you) have info tell police on scene or contact Crime Stoppers.”
The search is ongoing on a frigid night in Omaha, with temperatures below zero.
“The Omaha Police Homicide and Forensic Investigation Units are currently on scene. There are also numerous other officers canvassing the area to find additional witnesses and evidence. We have preliminarily determined a person of interest that we are currently searching for,” police said in a statement. “We are in the process of notifying the victims’ next of kin. Once notifications have been made, we will release the victims’ information.”
Police said that anyone who spotted Dalton should not approach him and should call 911.
“Anyone with information is urged to contact the OPD Homicide Unit at 444-5656 or if you’d like to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward, contact Crime Stoppers at 444-STOP, at http://www.OmahaCrimeStoppers.org or on the P3 Tips mobile app. Tips leading to the arrest of a homicide fugitive are eligible for an enhanced reward of up to $5,000,” police said.
3. Dalton Fatally Shot His Wife in 1998 While His Daughters Were in a Nearby Room & Then Fled to Nashville
Dalton, then 26, fatally shot his wife, Shannon, in 1998 while his three young daughters were in a nearby room, according to archived reports in the Omaha World-Herald. His children were 6, 5, and 3 at the time of the shooting, which occurred on September 7, 1998, inside a home on Ruggles Street in Omaha.
He fled from the shooting in his wife’s car to Nashville, Tennessee, where he was taken into custody days later after a traffic stop. His wife’s body was found on the floor of the living room of their home by Dalton’s cousin. Police later found she had been shot in the head John Dalton told his cousin, “she said she was going to leave me,” before fleeing, according to court documents obtained by Heavy.
Investigators found that Dalton was “very possessive, very jealous of her, accusing her of having an affair constantly, calling her from work and checking the snow to see if anybody had been around the house.”
Shannon Dalton’s mother told the World-Herald that her granddaughters saw John Dalton with a gun and heard the shots, but didn’t witness the actual shooting. The children were living with their paternal grandmother after the shooting, according to the newspaper. The prosecutor said the plea agreement, which spared Dalton a potential life sentence for murder, was made in order to spare the children from having to testify.
“Right now, I don’t think the children are old enough to understand, but they talk about it,” their grandmother, Floria Cullum, told the newspaper in 1999.
John Dalton’s public defender said that the couple was having “marital difficulties,” and Cullum told the newspaper that her daughter had planned to leave her husband. They had been married since 1993.
“She had made up her mind,” she said.
According to court documents, Shannon Dalton had gone to her in-laws to talk about her husband’s behavior and had also gone to the police for help, but there hadn’t been an incident that they could do anything about.
Police said the gun was never recovered, but through the autopsy and statements it was clear an “assault rifle” had been used.
4. He Pleaded Guilty to Manslaughter, Expressed Remorse for the Shooting & Was Sentenced to 20 to 30 Years in Prison
Dalton pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 1999 and was sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison. He was originally charged with second-degree murder.
According to an archived report from the Omaha World-Herald, Douglas County District Judge Robert V. Burkhard told Dalton, he would have to serve at least 10 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. His maximum sentence, with good behavior, would be 15 years. He was given credit for 428 days he served in jail prior to his sentencing.
“You may feel that the sentences that I’m about to impose are harsh, and maybe Shannon’s family might think they are too lenient. I don’t know. A human life was taken senselessly,” Burkhard said during court, according to documents obtained by Heavy. “And I know everybody agrees, including yourself, it was taken senselessly. But I feel basically in view of all the circumstances, both favorable and unfavorable, that the sentence I am about to impose basically fits the crimes and are fair and reasonable and do not depreciate from the seriousness of these offenses.”
Burkhard has since retired. You can read the full transcript of the sentencing and plea hearings below:
Dalton expressed remorse during his sentencing hearing, according to the court documents.
“I wish I could go back and change that whole day around. I miss my wife so much,” he wrote to the judge. “A part of my heart is gone and lost forever. My sorrow will be greater than any time you give me, sir. I need to be with my daughters as much as they need to be with me. I pray that you see this, Your Honor.”
Dalton’s attorney argued that his daughters needed to be with their father after losing their mother.
Dalton, who claimed he accidentally shot his wife, did later appeal his conviction in both state and federal court, but was denied at both levels. In his appeal, Dalton argued he received ineffective counsel and that the state erred in convicting him of intentionally using a deadly weapon to commit the unintentional crime of manslaughter.
“Rather than prejudice, the petitioner obviously received a benefit from the reduction of his murder charge to manslaughter,” U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp said in her 2007 ruling against Dalton’s federal appeal.
5. Dalton, Who Had a Previous Drug Conviction, Had His Parole Term End in 2013 After Being Released in December 2010
Dalton, who was previously convicted of a drug charge in the early 1990s, was released from prison in December 2010, according to online records from the Nebraska Department of Corrections. He was also convicted of use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony and possession of a deadly weapon by a felon in the same 1998 case.
He was discharged from his parole term on June 28, 2013.
Dalton already had a criminal record when he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, according to Nebraska court records. He pleaded guilty in 1992 to a felony charge of delivering/dispensing/distributing/manufacturing/possession of an exceptionally hazardous drug. He was sentenced to two years of probation. His probation was terminated in October 1994. Dalton was arrested by the Omaha Police Department on June 3, 1992. Other details about that case were not immediately available.
He also had previous convictions for trespassing, leaving the scene of an accident, reckless driving and driving the wrong way.