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First Woman Faces Death Penalty in S.D.


This is an undated family picture of Darlene VanderGiesen who
disappeared on Feb. 1, 2006 and was found dismembered. Daphne Wright,
43, is accused of kidnapping and killing VanderGiesen, 42, in Sioux
Falls last year. The trial, which starts Monday, April 2, 2007, is
expected to take three to four weeks. (AP Photo)

By Carson Walke
The Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Jealousy drove a woman to kill her lover’s
friend, then dismember her body with a chain saw and burn it, a
prosecutor said Monday as he opened South Dakota’s first death
penalty trial against a female.

Defense attorneys argued there was not enough evidence to convict
Daphne Wright, 43, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering
Darlene VanderGiesen. VanderGiesen’s bone fragments were found in the
basement of Wright’s Sioux Falls home.

Wright became upset when her girlfriend, Sallie Collins, befriended
VanderGiesen, 42, prosecutor Dave Nelson told jurors. “The reason for
this murder? Jealousy,” he said.

The three women were deaf and knew each other through the deaf community.

Collins and VanderGiesen were platonic friends, Nelson said.

“In her words, she felt Darlene was trying to destroy her
relationship with Sallie,” Nelson said. “There was no romantic
relationship between Darlene and Sallie. They were friends.”

Wright was arrested 10 days after VanderGiesen disappeared Feb. 1, 2006.

Nelson said the evidence included a receipt that Wright bought an
electric chain saw two days after VanderGiesen disappeared. Another
receipt indicates she also bought black garbage bags found with the
body, he said.

Parts of VanderGiesen’s body were found in the Sioux Falls landfill
and in a ditch near Hills, Minn.

Evidence indicates VanderGiesen died either of suffocation or a blow
to the head or both, Nelson said.

“Within hours of disposing of Darlene VanderGiesen’s remains the
night before, this defendant embraced Darlene’s mother, hugged her,
and said she was sorry she was missing and told Darlene’s mother that
she would pray for her return,” he said.

Sign language interpreters communicated the courtroom dialogue to
Wright. A large screen showed the court reporter’s transcription to
audience members, many of whom are deaf.

Defense attorney Traci Smith said the evidence only focuses on what
happened after VanderGiesen died and none of it would prove Wright
kidnapped or killed her.

“I would ask only that you consider the state’s motive in relying so
heavily on this information when it has no bearing on how Darlene was
killed,” she said. “You will only hear speculation as to what may
have caused the fatal injury to Darlene’s skull.”

Smith said e-mails suggested Wright called VanderGiesen derogatory
names because of her weight but that does not constitute a motive for

“These childish words have been spun into the death threat which gave
rise to the state’s theory of their case,” Smith said.

Four men are on death row in South Dakota, which has not had an
execution in 60 years.

(( Source: AP Newswire ))