(SIOUX FALLS, S.D.) — Jurors in the trial of a deaf woman accused of
killing and dismembering an acquaintance heard graphic, emotional
testimony Thursday on how the victim’s remains were found.
Daphne Wright, 43, the first female defendant in a South Dakota
capital punishment case, is charged with kidnapping and killing her
ex-lover’s friend, Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, on Feb. 1, 2006.
Jessica Lichty, a forensic chemist with the Sioux Falls Police
Department’s crime lab, described how VanderGiesen’s pelvis and
thighs, feet and lower legs were found at the local landfill and the
upper body was later found intact in a Minnesota ditch.
“Her facial features were visible and recognizable,” Lichty said.
Prosecutors have said Wright killed VanderGiesen, then used a chain
saw in the basement to dismember her body and burn part of it.
Lichty said she went to the Sioux Falls landfill Feb. 11, 2006, after
searchers found feet and lower legs. She logged them as “Jane
Two days later at the autopsy she took samples of bone and muscle
tissue, which prosecutors have said match fragments found in Wright’s
Another portion of the body, the lower torso, was found Feb. 21,
2006, — “just below the belly button and then just below the knee
joints for both legs,” Lichty said.
On March 28, 2006, the upper part of VanderGiesen’s body was found
just inside the Minnesota border near Interstate 90.
The upper torso, from just below the belly button up, was intact,
Lichty said. The right arm and hand were more decomposed because they
were exposed to the elements and two small bones in the forearm were
broken, she said.
Around VanderGiesen’s head was a clear plastic bag with a draw string
tied around the neck and cord tied around that, Lichty said.
The face, side of the neck and some of the front of the body also
showed charring, as did what remained of the bra, she said.
The bag “was tied securely and it was stuck to the neck because of
the burning,” Lichty said.
The next day at the autopsy Lichty said she cut the bag off and
smelled a petroleum odor from the hair.
Lichty and other investigators have testified they detected a
gasoline smell in Wright’s basement as fresh paint was peeled off the
Lichty introduced other evidence:
— Black garbage bags similar to those Wright bought two days after
VanderGiesen disappeared were found with the remains in the ditch and
— Bed sheets and blankets from Wright’s house were found with the
remains in both places.
— A sheet found next to the pelvis had coal dust on it. Prosecutors
have said Wright dismembered VanderGiesen in an old coal room.
— Carpet and fibers found next to the body in the landfill and ditch
were similar to a piece found in Wright’s garage.
— Rope was tied around VanderGiesen’s neck. Prosecutors have said
the cord matches a spool found in Wright’s garage.
An autopsy determined VanderGiesen was killed either by suffocation
or a blow to the head. Wright was arrested Feb. 10 after a search of
her basement yielded bone fragments, muscle and fat that matched DNA
taken from VanderGiesen’s toothbrush.
The testimony was the most emotional thus far in the trial in its
fourth day. Wright mostly watched the interpreter at the front of the
courtroom. Jurors took notes as the photos passed by but showed
little reaction. VanderGiesen’s mother left the room crying.
Several times on cross-examination this week, defense lawyers have
questioned investigators why more evidence didn’t undergo DNA,
fingerprint and other testing.
They’ve also asked several questions suggesting that maybe Wright’s
former lover might be responsible for the killing.
“You know that Sallie Collins works at Wells Fargo, don’t you?”
Public Defender Jason Adams asked Officer Mark Toft Thursday, probing
why a shirt with the bank’s logo wasn’t sent to the crime lab.
“I don’t have personal knowledge of that,” Toft replied.
The last witness of the week was a Minnesota county worker, who said
he noticed what turned out to be VanderGiesen’s body several times
before eventually checking it out.
Keith Schmuck said he spotted the object in the ditch while driving
his snowplow and thought it was garbage.
“And I seen it on several occasions and kind of kept it in my mind to
go back and get it. I don’t know what possessed me but it was
something that I had to do,” he said.
The trial resumes Monday morning. Prosecutors are ahead of schedule.
(( Source: Sioux City Journal ))