A Most Dangerous Liaison
IT WAS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE A ROBBERY gone wrong. On Sept. 12, 1990, Dianne Hood, 32, was walking with a friend to her car outside the Otis Park Community Center in Colorado Springs when someone wearing camouflage fatigues and a ski mask snuck up and grabbed for her purse. Hood screamed, “Take it!” and hurled the bag at her assailant, who pulled out a .45 caliber Colt revolver and shot her. Then, as Hood lay on the ground begging for mercy, her attacker again leveled the .45 and killed her with a second shot in the chest.
Given the cruel coup de grace, the death of Dianne Hood was clearly not the work of a panicky mugger. Within two days police arrested Jennifer Reali, an army officer’s wife who confessed that she had been having an affair with Dianne’s husband, Brian Hood, and had donned a disguise to gun down her rival.
Though there has never been any doubt about who shot Dianne Hood, the mystery is why. Reali, 29, who went on trial for murder last month, claims Brian Hood used a twisted interpretation of the Bible to brainwash her into believing that she would be carrying out the will of God by killing his wife. Hood, 33, countered with a fatal-attraction defense. During Hood’s separate trial on murder and conspiracy charges last year, his lawyers contended that Reali acted alone, out of a crazed desire to get even because he had decided to break up with her.
Jennifer Reali and Brian Hood met in March 1990 in a Jacuzzi at a health club in Colorado Springs. She was comely and vivacious, and Brian, at 6’4″ and 215 lbs., had an athlete’s build and a cock-of-the-walk self-assurance. He came on strong, and during the next few months, the two met frequently at the club, sharing confidences about each other and their families.
Brian had met Dianne as an undergraduate at Angelo State University in Texas, where he had been a defensive tackle on the football team. They were married in December 1980 and moved a few months later to Colorado Springs, where Brian eventually landed a job as a liquor salesman. In 1986, after joining Fellowship Bible Church and becoming a born-again Christian, Hood quit the liquor business and began selling life insurance. Dianne stayed home to raise their three children, Jarrod, now 10, Lesley, 8, and Joshua, 3. Then, a few months before Joshua’s birth, Dianne learned she had lupus, an immune-system disorder that sometimes proves fatal.
While Dianne had begun to suffer many of the early symptoms of lupus—skin rashes, fatigue and shortness of breath—Jennifer was a picture of health. Trim and fit, she bore a striking resemblance to actress Glenda Jackson. In 1984 she had cut short her studies at the University of Washington to marry Ben Reali, then an Army second lieutenant. Soon after arriving in Colorado Springs in 1989 with two daughters—Tinneke, now 4, and Natasha, 2½—Jennifer joined the health club.
When Ben Reali was away on military maneuvers in May 1990, Brian dropped in on Jennifer at home, ostensibly to talk about life insurance. Jennifer went to the kitchen to get coffee and was standing with her back to Hood, she later testified at Brian’s trial, when he spun her around and kissed her passionately. Hood’s shirt became wrinkled as they fondled each other, and she offered to iron it for him in the laundry room. But after he put the shirt back on, she claimed, he dropped his pants. “He lifted me up on the washer and dryer,” she testified, “and we had sex.” Afterward, Jennifer recalled, Hood told her, “In the eyes of God, now we are one.”
In the weeks that followed, according to Jennifer, she and Brian had sex frequently in the back of her Jeep Cherokee. (On one occasion, when the couple met behind the florist’s shop where Reali worked, her boss observed them kissing; the day after the murder, he tipped off police about their affair.) As the relationship grew more passionate, Jennifer testified, Brian spoke often about the Bible and pointed out the account in the Book of Samuel of King David’s marriage to his mistress Bathsheba, which occurred after he sent her husband off to war and certain death. Jennifer claimed that Brian manipulated her by suggesting that killing Dianne would put her out of her misery from lupus. “He felt in his mind that to murder her was less of a sin than to divorce her,” Jennifer told the court.
According to Reali, Brian called her on the morning of Sept. 10 to say Dianne would be at a lupus-support-group meeting two nights later and suggested she carry out the fake-robbery scenario they had allegedly been talking about for weeks. “If you love me,” Jennifer claimed Brian told her, “you can do this, and we can have a life together.”
During Hood’s trial, defense attorney Richard Tegtmeier accused Jennifer of being a compulsive liar and contended that Brian met with her the morning of Dianne’s murder to call an end to the affair. Dianne’s closest friend, Darla Blue, testified that the Hoods had overcome many of their marital differences during a three-day trip to Sun Valley, Idaho, two weeks before the murder. “They said they were committing themselves anew,” said Blue. Five hours before the shooting, Brian picked up a month’s supply of Dianne’s medicine at a local pharmacy. “When I asked him about Sun Valley, his face lit up,” said pharmacy clerk Nancy Bramley. “He said the trip was…like a honeymoon.”
Jennifer’s former mother-in-law, Renata Reali (Ben had divorced Jennifer before Hood’s trial), ridiculed the idea that Jennifer could be brainwashed into committing murder. Renata testified that Jennifer had a domineering personality that prompted her female friends to call her “the General,” and that she could “fake her way through anything.” Jennifer’s ex-husband portrayed her as a woman prone to outbursts of violence, who once threw a steak knife at him.
Dianne’s brother, David Moore, a San Antonio attorney who is married to a prosecutor, offered the most compelling testimony in defense of Brian. He blasted the prosecution for promising not to seek the death penalty for Jennifer in exchange for her testimony against Brian. “I don’t believe Brian is guilty,” Moore said. “This woman took my sister from me. Now she’s trying to take Brian away from me. She’s ruined our family.”
As David Moore left the witness stand, Brian pleaded with his attorney to let him testify. But after several minutes of intense whispering, Tegtmeier rested his case. “I didn’t feel it was necessary to put Brian on the stand,” Tegtmeier said later. “I felt Jennifer Reali’s credibility was such that no jury would be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Brian had been involved in the killing.”
Tegtmeier was wrong. Hood was acquitted of first-degree murder but found guilty on two counts of criminal solicitation and one count of conspiracy to murder his wife. After the verdict was announced, jury foreman Ron Shaver sent a personal letter to Judge Joseph Weather by urging that he give Hood a light sentence. “I’m not saying Hood is 100 percent innocent,” Shaver said recently. “But I think he had a complete change of heart before that crime happened.” Despite Shaver’s plea, Hood was sentenced to 37 years in prison.
David Moore, for one, thinks the sentence is unjust. He admits that he “cringed” the first time he learned that Brian was cheating on his sister. Nonetheless, he believes it is a tragedy Hood has not been allowed to rejoin his children, who are now living in Houston with their paternal grandparents. “Brian is a bonehead,” he says. “But being a bonehead doesn’t qualify someone for prison.”
At Reali’s trial, which is expected to conclude at the end of March, her lawyer is trying to make the case that she was in a state of diminished mental capacity when she committed the crime. The defense contends that Jennifer has a personality disorder, exacerbated by the trauma of being sexually molested at age 6, which makes her entirely dependent on men for a sense of self and which left her vulnerable to manipulation by Hood. If the jury accepts this argument, she could go free.
“This woman confessed to murder, and now she may get off,” laments David Moore. “That’s ludicrous.”
VICKIE BANE in Denver