Category Archives: Wright Case

Courtroom sees photos from victim’s autopsy

By Josh Verges

The gory science of forensic pathology was on display Monday as the second week of Daphne Wright’s capital murder trial got underway.

Wright, 43, is accused of the February 2006 kidnapping and murder of Darlene VanderGiesen, 42.

The victim’s parents and sister left the courtroom Monday as Minnehaha County Coroner Brad Randall used autopsy photographs to describe what he learned about VanderGiesen’s death and chainsaw dismemberment. Jurors saw pictures, but Monday was the first time any photos were projected for the entire courtroom.

The screen displaying the photos is next to the American Sign Language interpreter Wright relies on to understand what’s said in court. The defendant’s demeanor did not change during Randall’s testimony.

Faced with extensive evidence linking Wright to VanderGiesen’s dismemberment, the defense has said what happened to the body after death is irrelevant. The state can’t prove who or what killed the woman, they said.

Randall told jurors on Monday that VanderGiesen died of suffocation, blunt head trauma or a combination of the two.

Defense lawyer Jeff Larson suggested on cross-examination that VanderGiesen could have died from falling down the basement steps and banging her head against a beam. But Randall said a seven-inch skull fracture over the right ear and heavy bruising on the top, back, left and right sides of the woman’s head indicate it was no accident.

VanderGiesen’s left foot showed deep cuts, which Randall said probably were caused by a knife, not a saw. Her head was covered tightly by a plastic bag, which was melted at the neck where there was evidence of burnt fuel on the upper body.

He said all the slicing wounds occurred after death.

The defense sought to keep some of the nine autopsy photos out of the trial, but Judge Brad Zell said they were important to the case despite their gruesome nature.

The judge did restrict what jurors saw of a forensic experiment that sought to recreate the dismemberment using a 200-pound pig.

Randall and Jessica Lichty, forensic chemist at the Sioux Falls crime lab, hacked into the pig last January with a 1.5-horsepower chain saw. Prosecutors say Wright did the same to VanderGiesen two days after her death.

After the judge disallowed video of the experiment, Randall described it with the aid of a still photograph. He said it took Lichty 30 to 40 seconds to saw through the thickest part of the animal.

“The saw passed easily through the tissue,” he said.

The resulting blood and bone spatter was similar to what witnesses said was found in the basement at 1806 S. Phillips Ave., where Wright lived.

Side-by-side comparisons of skin and bone belonging to VanderGiesen and to the pig demonstrated the similarities in chain-saw-inflicted markings, Randall said.

Lab tests supported the state’s belief that Wright dumped parts of VanderGiesen’s body in a Dumpster and the rest in a Minnesota roadside ditch.

Rex Riis, a forensic pathologist at the state crime lab, matched carpet fibers, trash bags and cord found near VanderGiesen’s body with clothes found at Daphne Wright’s home.

Stacey Smith, another forensic pathologist, gave DNA testimony that identified the basement remains and other body parts as VanderGiesen’s, as well as blood found on the vehicle Wright shared with her roommate.

Sioux Falls police officer Marc Toft said sheets wrapped around VanderGiesen’s pelvis matched Wright’s pillow cases.

The state also tied ends loosened last week by the defense. A pair of male underwear found on Wright’s property belonged to a 9-year-old boy, a day care provider said. And a Wells Fargo polo shirt found at the city landfill would not have belonged to Wright’s roommate, a detective said.

The items were two of several leads the defense said police failed to follow.

(( Source:  Argus Leader ))