Testimony focuses on body
Victim’s mother breaks down as jury views burned clothing
By Josh Verges
As jurors in Daphne Wright’s capital murder trial passed around
pieces of a burned bra Thursday, the victim’s mother left the
courtroom and sobbed.
Dee VanderGiesen had hidden her emotions during the first week of
testimony, but viewing the last of her daughter’s personal items
found by police was too much.
Family members comforted her outside while jurors viewed Darlene
VanderGiesen’s upper body as captured in Sioux Falls police
photographs six weeks after her death.
Alleging kidnapping, murder and dismemberment, prosecutors spent the
early days of the trial establishing a jealousy motive and a
timeline. On Thursday, they focused on VanderGiesen’s body, which was
found Feb. 11 and 21 at the city landfill and March 28, 2006, in
Those last dismembered remains, from her navel to her head, were
found wrapped in bags and bed sheets that witnesses have linked to
Rock County, Minn., highway maintenance worker Keith Schmuck said
Thursday that he found the remains in a steep ditch 20 miles east of
Sioux Falls. He said he’d seen the body while plowing snow in
previous weeks but figured it was garbage.
“I seen it on several occasions, and I kind of kept in my mind to go
back and get it,” Schmuck said.
Jessica Lichty, forensic chemist at the Sioux Falls crime lab,
observed the upper body at the scene. She told jurors she recognized
the remains as VanderGiesen, who had gone missing Feb. 1.
Lichty said she could see the woman’s face through a clear, plastic
bag, which carried a sticker that read, “Warning: Plastic bags can be
dangerous. To avoid danger of suffocation, keep this bag away from
babies and children.”
The next day, Lichty participated in an autopsy on the remains. She
described “black charring” on the face and neck and on the part of
the chest not covered by the bra.
Lichty cut away both the bag and a rope secured tightly around the
woman’s neck. She noticed blood and could smell VanderGiesen’s hair.
“It smelled like fuel, like gasoline,” Lichty said.
Prosecutors have said Wright used gas as an accelerant when she tried
to burn the body in the basement of her Sioux Falls home.
Lichty said she found blood at several spots in the basement of
Wright’s home and on the vehicle she shared with her roommate. She
and other witnesses have testified to finding flecks of human bone
and tissue in the basement walls, which prosecutors say Wright
sloppily covered up with paint.
Wright’s defense lawyers have made few attempts to challenge the
state’s witnesses except when pointing to leads that police declined
On Thursday, Wright’s lawyers noted dozens of pieces of evidence
police seized during the investigation that never were tested for DNA
or fingerprints. They included a Wells-Fargo polo shirt found at the
landfill – Wright’s roommate worked at the bank – and apparent men’s
underwear found outside their home.
Sioux Falls police sergeant Tim Hagen said that early in the landfill
search, workers collected everything with blood on it. As the 11 days
of searching went on, they grew more selective, limiting the hunt to
body parts and a chainsaw.
“We would have been there forever if we collected every piece of
something that had suspected blood on it,” Hagen said.
Officer Edwin Centeno told jurors that Feb. 21 was the only day he
worked the landfill search. Minutes after VanderGiesen’s pelvis was
recovered, Centeno found a trash bag containing a JDS Industries
jacket – that’s where VanderGiesen worked – as well as a ripped and
bloodied T-shirt, a second button-up shirt, pants, two pairs of shoes
and an extension cord.
The victim’s mother closed her eyes and held her husband’s hands as
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson showed the jacket and
torn shirt to jurors.
Testimony resumes Monday morning. Judge Brad Zell told jurors that
the trial, first expected to take three to four weeks, is moving more
quickly than expected.
(( Source:Â Argus Leader ))