By Josh Verges
Though her voice was steady, the jury foreperson was physically shaking Wednesday night as she informed Daphne Wright she would not die for murdering Darlene VanderGiesen.
Erin Frost-Elshami said jurors let the judge read the guilty verdict the week before because they were overcome with emotion. But during the sentencing phase, they wanted to deliver the verdict of life imprisonment directly to Wright.
“I felt like it was all 12 of us saying, ‘We grant you mercy,’ ” said Frost-Elshami, a 38-year-old housewife and mother of two.
“We wanted her to know that we were more merciful to her than she was to Darlene,” said Lisa Wise, 42, a John Morrell employee who also sat on the jury.
Wright was found guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping and murder while committing kidnapping against VanderGiesen in February 2006.
After the slaying, Wright used a chain saw, prosecutors maintain, to dismember the body.
In interviews with the Argus Leader on Thursday, the jurors said it was difficult reaching unanimous decisions on both the kidnapping charge last week and the aggravating factor Wednesday.
But the moral question of a life or death sentence didn’t take long, with seven jurors set on life without parole and at least four on the fence. Wise said none wanted to impose the death penalty, but Frost-Elshami said there was one.
The decision needed to be unanimous only if the verdict was death.
“We weren’t trying to convince anyone or change anyone’s mind. That’s really a moral decision,” Frost-Elshami said.
Both jurors said Thursday that Wright’s being black and a homosexual were not discussed in deliberations, but her challenges growing up deaf contributed to their decision.
“I didn’t look at what color she was, whether she was a lesbian, but the deafness played a role,” Wise said, adding that the sentence might have been death had the defendant been a man.
Frost-Elshami said a mitigating detail that stuck in her mind was Wright’s Individualized Education Plans from her North Carolina deaf school. The documents, presented by Wright’s lawyers, showed her parents were not involved in her schooling at an early age.
“It was no response, no response, no reply,” she said. “I think Daphne was on her own from a very young age.”
VanderGiesen, too, was sent away from home because her hearing parents couldn’t communicate with her, but her parents soon moved from Kansas to Rock Valley, Iowa, where she attended a deaf school.
Frost-Elshami was struck by the similarities between the defendant’s and victim’s early lives.
“But to know that Daphne was alone within her deafness, that was really telling,” she said.
Wise said she strongly considered the death penalty as the horrific photographs of the victim’s body ran through her mind. It was the religious convictions and sense of forgiveness in VanderGiesen’s parents that helped her agree on the life sentence.
“I can live with her never being able to get out of prison again. I can live with that,” Wise said.
The prosecutor and the victim’s parents praised the jurors on Wednesday for taking their roles seriously, but Wright’s mother was upset that there were no black or deaf jurors.
Frost-Elshami was “amazed” at her 11 peers, who she said focused on the evidence and not the defendant’s race or sexual preference.
“It was really serious,” she said. “It’s something I don’t want to do again, but I really think it was the 12 best people who could have been chosen.”
(( Source:Â Argus Leader ))