Wright Defense: Accident theory backed by pathologist

Defense rests in Wright Trial

Daphne Wright’s defense lawyers took less than a day planting doubts about how Darlene VanderGiesen died, their client’s motive for kidnapping and murder and her ability to dismember the woman’s body.

The state rested its case Tuesday morning before the jury returned. The defense then called seven witnesses; the 43-year-old defendant was not among them.

After six days of testimony, all that’s left for jurors to hear is closing arguments, which should take place late this morning.

Prosecutors maintain 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 ditch.

She faces first-degree murder and kidnapping charges.

On Tuesday, the defense brought Rapid City forensic pathologist Donald Habbe to the witness stand for an alternative opinion on how VanderGiesen died. He reviewed autopsy photos and the report produced by Minnehaha County Coroner Brad Randall, who said the woman died of multiple blows to the head and/or suffocation from a plastic bag found on her head.

Habbe disagreed, saying the large horseshoe hemorrhage wrapping the victim’s head “would be compatible with just one blow.” He said he was more convinced than Randall that it was the head injury, not suffocation, that killed her.

The testimony supported one of the defense suggestions that VanderGiesen died accidentally by falling down the stairs leading to Wright’s basement. The defense has argued that whatever chain-saw dismemberment might have gone on after the death has nothing to do with the alleged crimes of kidnapping and murder.

On cross-examination, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson focused on the heavy, transparent, plastic bag found tightly secured over VanderGiesen’s head. He said it doesn’t make sense that it would be placed on a dead body.

“Why would one seek to cut off the oxygen for a person that was already dead?” Nelson asked several different ways.

Habbe offered only that someone maybe didn’t want to look at VanderGiesen’s face.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what the person’s thinking,” he said.

Jurors heard more conflicting testimony from a second witness who helped Wright buy a chain saw from an Ace Hardware Feb. 3, 2006.

State witness Denee Daniels had said the saw was assembled when she sold it to Wright, but Delbert Fey, who helped her find the saw, said Tuesday that it still was in the box and unassembled.

Previous testimony from Jacki Chesmore, who shared a home with Wright at 1806 S. Phillips Ave., indicated Wright didn’t know how to assemble a chain saw. Chesmore said Wright and her then-girlfriend, Sallie Collins, were supposed to remove a tree from the property in fall 2005, but returned the saw to the store after they failed to put it together.

The defense has said throughout the trial that police failed to follow several leads that could have pointed to another suspect.

On Tuesday, they called Marc Toft to testify. He keeps track of evidence for Sioux Falls police, and said 403 items were tagged in the murder investigation.

Defense lawyer Jason Adams said many of those could have been important to the case but never were sent to the state crime lab for DNA or other tests. He identified about 20 items, including a bag of clothing that presumably belonged to the victim, which was found near her pelvis at the city landfill in February 2006.

The same jurors who should at least start deliberations today will decide Wright’s penalty if they find her guilty of kidnapping or premeditated murder. Wright will get either life in prison or death by injection.

(( Source: Argus Leader ))

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