Wright Trial: Penalty Phase Explained

By Lou Raguse

Jurors have the weekend off before deciding whether convicted murderer Daphne Wright should live or die.

Testimony in the penalty phase of Wright’s trial begins Tuesday. The jury of 11 women and one man must unanimously agree on the death penalty, or else Wright will spend the rest of her life in prison.

The jury actually takes two votes. First it has to decide unanimously whether the crime fits the definition of this aggravating factor:  “The offense was so outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim.”

But If the jurors do that, they must then unanimously decide whether the act warrants death.

When Wright’s penalty phase begins, prosecutors will likely re-offer all the evidence presented in her trial. Then they can start offering new evidence, such as Wright’s criminal background, if any, and victim impact statements.

“Calling family members to testify to the jury about the impact this has had on the victim’s family,” says former prosecutor Scott Abdallah, who’s now in private practice.

He says the first hurdle for the prosecution is proving the crime involved “torture, depravity of mind, or aggravated battery.” That’s the aggravating factor prosecutors say was present in Wright’s kidnapping and murder of Darlene VanderGiesen.

“Things that may not have been relevant during the first trial could potentially be relevant during the death penalty phase if they are relevant to whether this crime involved torture, depravity of mind, or aggravated battery,” Abdallah says.

But there is no clear definition in the law books for “depravity of mind” and “aggravated battery.” So if the defense uses its same strategy from the trial, Wright’s lawyers will likely tell jurors to ignore the chainsaw dismemberment that followed the murder and to concentrate on the death, which happened either from skull fracture or suffocation.

They’ll likely argue that the crime itself doesn’t fit the definition of the aggravating factor.

Above that, the defense will likely call its own witnesses to present what’s called mitigating circumstances… Which in other death penalty cases have been evidence of a disability, a troubled childhood or mental impairment.

“It’s really evidence for the defense attorney to say: this is to give you an appreciation for who my client is, and what may have caused my client to commit this horrific act,” Abdallah says.

If the jury decides the case is death-eligible, it will then weigh the aggravating factor against the mitigating circumstances in deciding whether to give Wright the death penalty.

Again, if just one juror decides the case is not death eligible or decides against death in the second vote, Daphne Wright will spend life in prison.

(( Source:  KELOLAND TV ))

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