Wright case goes to jury: Premeditation central point of dispute

By Josh Verges
After hearing grisly details of Darlene VanderGiesen’s slaying and dismemberment during closing arguments, jurors in the capital murder case against Daphne Wright called it a night at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday without reaching a verdict.

They didn’t get the case until 5 p.m. because the court went late completing jury instructions. The jury was to be sequestered overnight and resume deliberations at 9 a.m. today.

Wright, 43, was indicted on kidnapping and premeditated murder charges for the Feb. 1, 2006, death of 42-year-old VanderGiesen.

In four hours of closing arguments Wednesday, the state asked jurors to use common sense, and the defense asked them to focus on what is not known about the woman’s death.

Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson pieced together a wealth of physical and circumstantial evidence to tell his theory of the events.

Upset about Darlene VanderGiesen’s purported attempts to “destroy” her lesbian relationship, Wright set up a meeting with the victim the evening of Feb. 1 at the Pizza Hut at 26th Street and Sycamore Avenue.

Wright somehow got VanderGiesen into her vehicle and later that day killed her with blows to the head and by suffocating her with a plastic bag secured tightly at her neck, Nelson said.

The defendant waited two days for a check to arrive, bought a chain saw and then, Nelson said, hacked the victim’s body into four pieces in the defendant’s basement at 1806 S. Phillips Ave.

Nelson said Wright wrapped the pieces in trash bags and bedding, took them to her roommate’s vehicle and drove to a Dumpster near what now is the new Hy-Vee store off Minnesota Avenue. She managed to get the legs and 85-pound pelvis in the trash, he said, but when she couldn’t lift the intact upper torso and head, she drove 20 miles east and used a rope to drag the remains into a Minnesota roadside ditch.

The legs and pelvis were recovered at the city landfill within two weeks of the killing. When the upper body was discovered six weeks after the killing, police found evidence of burning with a liquid accelerant.

“If it were up to this defendant, she (VanderGiesen) would find her eternal grave at the Sioux Falls sanitary landfill,” Nelson said.

Wright’s defense lawyers focused on a lack of direct evidence of either kidnapping or premeditated murder.

Minnehaha County Public Defender Traci Smith told jurors that the dismemberment evidence prosecutors relied on so heavily is irrelevant because it occurred after VanderGiesen’s death.

“The evidence that was presented all has to do with what happened two days later – at least two days later,” Smith said. “Once a person is deceased, the crime is done.”

Nelson responded in his closing rebuttal that the state’s evidence strongly supports their theory of kidnapping and premeditated murder.

“It’s the circumstances surrounding all of the events that lead us to the inescapable conclusion,” he said, calling the evidence “overwhelming.”

On or around the victim’s body, police found cord that matched a spool from the defendant’s garage, bed sheets from Wright’s house, orange carpet from her basement and a sweatshirt that belonged to Wright.

“It was that shirt that this defendant was wearing when she cut up Darlene on Feb. 3 after she had murdered her two days before,” Nelson said.

Smith said the state is asking jurors “to speculate, to fill in the gaps” about what happened between the Pizza Hut and the dismemberment and disposal.

But the prosecutor said it was the defense that offered “speculation and innuendo” about alternative suspects.

Evidence of multiple blows to VanderGiesen’s head and the transparent bag sealed at her neck points to Wright as a premeditating killer, Nelson said.

“There was nothing accidental about this case,” he said. “Her body was desecrated in ways that we can not find words to describe.”

(( Source:  Argus Leader ))

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