Jury to begin deliberating in dismemberment trial

By Carson Walker, Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS — Jurors today will deliberate whether to convict a woman who was charged with kidnapping and murder in South Dakota’s first capital punishment trial involving a female defendant.

Lawyers for both sides plan closing arguments starting this morning in the trial of Daphne Wright, 43, of Sioux Falls.

If Wright is convicted of murder, prosecutors will ask the jury to sentence her to death by lethal injection.

Jury selection started March 5 and ended March 28. Prosecutors then called witnesses over five days, but defense lawyers took only Tuesday to present their case.

As the defense team finished calling witnesses Tuesday afternoon, they implied that Wright’s former lover may have had something to do with the Feb. 1, 2006, death of Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, who also was deaf. Her dismembered remains were found in the Sioux Falls landfill and a Hills, Minn., ditch.

In cross-examination, defense lawyers have also raised the possibility that the death might have been an accident.

In a videotaped interview, Wright told police she suspected VanderGiesen was trying to break up her relationship with another woman. Wright said she was jealous and believed that VanderGiesen had caused a rift between her and Sallie Collins, whom Wright had dated.

Collins testified that she broke up with Wright before VanderGiesen disappeared, saying she had lost interest in Wright — though they continued to spend time together.

Occasionally, during cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, Wright’s attorneys have asked questions implying Collins could have been involved with VanderGiesen’s death.

And officer Mark Toft of the Sioux Falls crime lab testified Tuesday as a defense witness that VanderGiesen’s address book was missing “C” and “D” when it was found.

“Are you aware that Sallie Collins’ last name starts with C?” Jason Adams, one of Wright’s lawyers, asked Toft.

“Yes,” he replied.

Toft earlier acknowledged to prosecutor Keith Allenstein that the ripped-out page also could have contained Wright’s contact information if VanderGiesen, an acquaintance, didn’t know her last name and filed it under “D” for Daphne.

The defense has also focused on a Wells Fargo shirt found in the Sioux Falls landfill near VanderGiesen’s remains as a possible link to Collins, who works at the bank.

Last week and again Tuesday, Adams asked Toft why the blue shirt wasn’t tested for DNA or other evidence.

Toft said he didn’t know but said 403 pieces of evidence, a high number, were collected in the case and not everything was tested.

The prosecution’s last witness Monday also testified about the shirt.

Detective Tim Duncan said Wells Fargo distributed the shirts in July 2005 to workers in its financial division. Collins was not a bank employee at the time and works in a different division, he said.

Duncan said the shirt was dirty from being in the landfill and had a bleach stain on a sleeve, which jurors saw Tuesday.

“Like something a Wells Fargo employee would be embarrassed to wear and toss it out?” prosecutor Dave Nelson asked Duncan.

“Yes.”

Duncan, called as a defense witness, also told the prosecutor that Collins felt threatened by Wright.

“She (Collins) made the comment she wanted to go out with other people to which she stated the defendant replied, ‘Well, it’s obvious it is Darlene you want to go out with,’” Duncan said. “Sallie stated she felt like the defendant wanted to keep her to herself, wanted her to be with her all the time and that is not what Sallie Collins wanted.”

But Duncan also told Traci Smith, one of Wright’s lawyers, that Collins was affectionate with Wright the weekend after VanderGiesen disappeared.

(( Source:  Rapid City Journal ))

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