Dee VanderGiesen, the mother of Darlene VanderGiesen, enters
Minnehaha County Courthouse on Monday morning for the murder
trial of Daphne Wright. Wright is accused of killing VanderGiesen.
(Photo by Elisha Page / Argus Leader)
State: Jealousy was murder motive
Defense: Evidence doesn’t prove link
By Josh Verges
In the early afternoon of Feb. 3, 2006, Darlene VanderGiesen’s
parents arrived at her eastside Sioux Falls apartment to search for
their missing daughter.
Meanwhile, Daphne Wright bought a 1.5-horsepower electric chainsaw at
an Ace Hardware and Hefty trash bags at a Walgreens.
Prosecutors said that after kidnapping and murdering VanderGiesen,
Wright sawed her body at the knees and waist, and tried to burn the
parts before disposing of them in a Dumpster and a Minnesota highway
The motive, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson said, was
jealousy; Wright was upset that her girlfriend, Sallie Collins, had
been spending time with VanderGiesen.
The day after police began looking for the missing woman, friends
joined her parents at the apartment.
Successfully holding back tears until she was shown pictures of her
daughter’s clothes, Dee VanderGiesen told jurors Monday that was the
first time she met both Collins and Wright.
“She came to me and told me who she was,” she said of Wright. “She
gave me a hug and she said she was sorry that Darlene was missing.
That they were friends, and she would be praying that we would find
Darlene soon. And I thanked her for coming, and they did not stay
VanderGiesen’s lower body turned up a week later at the regional
landfill. On March 28, a highway worker found the rest of the body in
southwestern Minnesota; a thick, clear bag was cinched over her head
with cord that matched a spool in Wright’s garage.
A coroner determined that VanderGiesen died Feb. 1 of either a single
blow to the head, which fractured her skull, or suffocation.
For Wright’s lawyers, the defense is in the details.
Minnehaha County Public Defender Traci Smith in opening statements
implored jurors to “listen closely” to the state’s evidence. It won’t
tell them how VanderGiesen died, she said, and it won’t prove
kidnapping or premeditated murder.
Smith said the state has spun childish, insulting e-mails into a
motive for murder.
VanderGiesen’s sister, Sandra Sidford, told jurors through an
American Sign Language interpreter that she talked with the victim
about some troubling e-mails Wright had sent to VanderGiesen days
before her disappearance.
One, which Wright signed with a pseudonym of Wendy Smith, called
VanderGiesen fat and said she had “elephant feet.”
In another e-mail, which a police investigator read in court, Wright
identified herself as Collins’ lover and asked VanderGiesen to stay
“You always visit Sallie when (I) am not here. Enough please,” Wright
wrote. She closed the message with, “Thanks for your time and take
Nelson said there was a Jan. 27 argument between Wright and
VanderGiesen and a false reconciliation the next day.
On Feb. 1, after a day of work in the packing section of trophy-maker
JDS Industries, VanderGiesen drove her truck to Pizza Hut on 26th
Street and Sycamore Avenue, where she met Wright. Nelson said that’s
where Wright somehow forced VanderGiesen into a vehicle.
“The defendant was the last person around to see Darlene VanderGiesen
alive,” Nelson said.
Smith, though, said much of what happened from the Pizza Hut on is
speculation. She said prosecutors can’t account for VanderGiesen’s
cell phone being found in her apartment, along with cigarettes that
apparently belonged to neither victim nor defendant.
The defense also pointed to VanderGiesen’s ex-boyfriends as potential killers.
Sidford, the sister, had told a police investigator that she was
worried about VanderGiesen meeting strange men online. Police spoke
with at least one of those men, an ex-boyfriend of VanderGiesen’s,
before turning their attention to Wright.
“There were other leads. There were other people that were not
investigated because in the state’s eye, they had their person,”
As for what happened to VanderGiesen’s body after death, she said,
it’s irrelevant to the allegations of kidnapping and murder.
It took most of four weeks to choose a jury and three alternates,
partly because prosecutors are seeking the death penalty and because
Wright is black and a lesbian. All but two of the chosen 15 are
women, and none is black.
The trial opened Monday with a half-empty courtroom but was near
capacity for part of the afternoon after about 20 teenagers entered
The row reserved for Wright’s family was unoccupied throughout the day.
(( Source: Argus Leader ))