By Josh Verges
Daphne Wright swallowed hard and began to cry as she read a guilty verdict on the hands of her American Sign Language interpreter.
The jury deliberated for seven hours before turning in its verdict just before noon Thursday, setting up a possible death sentence for Wright.
She was found guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping and murder while committing kidnapping against 42-year-old Darlene VanderGiesen in February 2006.
After the slaying, Wright used a chain saw, prosecutors maintain, to dismember the victim’s body.
Jurors probably will return Tuesday to decide whether the 43-year-old Wright will become the first woman on South Dakota’s death row.
To sentence Wright to death by injection, all 12 on the panel – 11 women and one man – must choose the death penalty. Otherwise, Wright will be sentenced to life in prison.
Wright told police she thought VanderGiesen, who was heterosexual, was trying to break up her lesbian relationship with Sallie Collins.
The victim and defendant were both deaf, as are several people who watched the court proceedings.
VanderGiesen’s only sister, Sandra Sidford, who is deaf and who had testified through a sign language interpreter, verbalized a “thank you” and hugged Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson after the verdict was read.
With another week of arguments ahead, lawyers from both sides declined comment.
It was Sidford who first pointed police in Wright’s direction when she turned over e-mails her sister received a week before she disappeared. The messages, which were tracked to Wright’s 1806 S. Phillips Ave. home, insulted VanderGiesen and asked her to stay away from the apartments where Collins lived.
Wright gave conflicting statements to police in a subsequent interview but admitted she had met VanderGiesen at the Pizza Hut where the victim’s truck was abandoned. She repeatedly denied harming the woman.
Prosecutors theorized that Wright somehow got VanderGiesen into her vehicle and later killed her by fracturing her skull with a blunt object and suffocating her with a plastic bag. She purchased a chain saw two days later, chopped the body into four pieces and disposed of it in a nearby Dumpster and a roadside ditch across the Minnesota border, prosecutors said.
Wright’s defense lawyers relied on a lack of eyewitnesses or murder weapon, which they hoped would raise doubts as to how VanderGiesen was killed.
After Judge Brad Zell read the verdict, the jurors left the courtroom as scheduling was discussed. When the judge called for their return, the audience stood waiting for several minutes.
“Some of them are trying to compose themselves to come back here, so we’re giving them a few minutes to do that,” Zell explained.
Several of the victim’s family members hugged prosecutors on their way out the courtroom. Outside, they shared tears and thanks.
Marcia VanGinkel of Sioux Falls said her daughters babysat the victim when she was a toddler in her hometown of Rock Valley, Iowa.
“I believe that now is the time for the family and friends in Sioux Falls to try and bless the memory of Darlene VanderGiesen,” she said.
The defense filed several motions before the trial asking the judge to preclude the death penalty. Zell will address what’s left of those filings in a hearing Monday.
One motion charges that the state’s decision to seek the death penalty is discriminatory because Wright is black, deaf and a lesbian.
Then, Tuesday morning, the jurors are expected back in court for the start of the trial’s penalty phase.
The prosecution and its witnesses must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the following aggravating factor existed:
“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.”
The defense and its witnesses will present mitigating arguments and evidence.
If the jurors unanimously agree with the prosecution, they then will consider whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment.
(( Source:Â Argus Leader ))