By Josh Verges
Daphne Wright was sentenced moments ago to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After nine hours of deliberations, jurors announced their decision around 8:30 p.m. They were unanimous in opting to spare Wright from death by injection.
Wright wiped tears from her eyes, even as she turned toward her mother and smiled slightly.
Minnehaha County Stateâ€™s Attorney Dave Nelson was then given permission to read a statement written by Dee VanderGiesen, the mother of slaying victim Darlene VanderGiesen:
â€œDaphne, there are no words to describe the hurt you have brought to our lives. The pain is deeper than anything we could ever describe. Yet we no longer feel the anger and vengeful thoughts that were first in our thoughts. The Lord has reached down in his grace and mercy â€¦ and brought us to a place where we can forgive you â€¦ ”
The statement concluded with this final message to Wright:
“We want you to know that we pray for you every day asking that God may touch your heart, that you may come to know his love â€¦ â€
Had she been sentenced to death, she would have become the first woman on South Dakota’s death row.
In closing arguments this morning, Nelson reminded jurors of the physical evidence that persuaded him to seek death: the victimâ€™s burned upper body, the plastic bag over her head, cutting wounds on her feet and that she was found in four pieces.
The jury had to decide unanimously that Wrightâ€™s mind was depraved at the time of the crime before even considering whether death is appropriate.
Nelson asked the jury to view the autopsy photographs next to the courtâ€™s definitions of the elements of a depraved mind.
â€œI urge you to examine those pictures carefully in the privacy of your jury room,â€ Nelson said. â€œThey provide to you a window … into the defendantâ€™s mind.â€
Jeff Larson, chief deputy public defender, said the case does not â€œgo along with the worst of the worstâ€ for which the death penalty is reserved.
Wright did not dismember the body for her own â€œperverse pleasure,â€ Larson said, but because her other attempts to get rid of the body failed. Her mind was not depraved, he said, it just lacked problem-solving skills.
Larson said he was scared for his client and that he didnâ€™t know what the jury wanted to hear.
He offered legal arguments that the dismemberment, because it came two days after death, does not prove a depraved mind at the time of the crime.
He said life in prison is still a harsh sentence and that a death penalty decision would only promote the thought pattern that led Wright to kill.
Larson began and ended with quotations from â€œA Raisin in the Sun,â€ the first Broadway play written by a black woman, as he asked jurors to keep in mind Wrightâ€™s troubled background.
â€œThere is always something to love. Please donâ€™t forget that,â€ he said.
Wright is black, deaf and a lesbian. Her victim, Darlene VanderGiesen, was white, deaf and heterosexual.
Nelson told the jurors he believed those would not be factors in their decision.
â€œIf we are the same anywhere, we are the same in the halls of justice,â€ he said.
(( Source:Â Argus Leader ))