Character of Wright now goes on trial

By Carson Waler, The Associated PressSIOUX FALLS — Jurors could hear more bad things about South Dakota’s first female defendant in a capital punishment trial next week, but they also are likely to hear some positive testimony.

The jury on Thursday convicted Daphne Wright, 43, of all three counts against her for the Feb. 1, 2006, slaying of Darlene VanderGiesen: first-degree premeditated murder, first-degree felony murder and kidnapping.

The prosecution said Wright abducted VanderGiesen, 42, killed her with a blow to the head or suffocation, or both, and dismembered her body with a chain saw.

Starting Tuesday, lawyers will present evidence in the penalty phase of the case. Then jurors will decide whether to sentence Wright to death by lethal injection or life in prison.

South Dakota Attorney General Larry Long has not been part of the Wright case and would not speak about it but did outline what happens next. Prosecutors “get to try the defendant’s character,” said Long, who prosecuted the case against serial killer Robert Leroy Anderson.

Anderson committed suicide on death row.

Long said testimony that might come out next week can include a person’s criminal history, financial condition and the impact of the crime on the victim’s family.

The law requires prosecutors to prove beyond reasonable doubt one of 10 aggravating circumstances before jurors can impose the death penalty, he said.

In the Wright case, the element that applies is: “The offense was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible, or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim.”

Even if they do decide that prosecutors proved the aggravating circumstance, they still don’t have to sentence someone to death, Long said.

And unlike the guilt phase, jurors who vote against death don’t have to give a reason, he said.

Prosecutors don’t have to introduce more evidence but they can, Long said.

Defense lawyers do plan to call more witnesses.

The defense’s job is to present mitigating evidence that shows jurors why the defendant should not be executed, Long said, adding that defense lawyers can put on any evidence they think might persuade jurors to spare their client.

(( Source:  Rapid City Journal ))

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