Strict Standards

South Dakotans sound off about Daphne Wright and the death penalty

There was some surprise around Sioux Falls when a jury Wednesday night announced that Daphne Wright would spend the rest of her life in prison.

She had tied a clear, plastic bag over Darlene VanderGiesen’s head and then cut up the body with a chain saw after an attempt to burn the body had failed.

If that doesn’t qualify for the death penalty, what does?

The jury, in fact, found that the prosecution had proved the case met the requirements in state law to impose the death penalty – that there had been an aggravating factor, a depraved mind.

But jurors say they gave Wright life in prison, instead, to show her the mercy she hadn’t shown VanderGiesen.

Juries have that latitude. They can impose death or life, and they don’t have to explain themselves.

Capital cases are rare in South Dakota. Now, only four people are on death row – Charles Rhines, Donald Moeller, Briley Piper and Elijah Page.

Awful crimes. But not all awful crimes are treated the same.

Look at the 2000 torture-killing of Chester Alan Poage. Darrell Hoadley pleaded not guilty in that case, went to trial and was convicted, but a jury gave him life in prison. His partners in the crime, Page and Piper, pleaded guilty and depended on the mercy of the court, but a judge – not a jury – sentenced them to death.

So that’s why we ask today, not should anyone in particular be given life or death, but rather, “What should be the standards for imposing the death penalty?”Jason Eagle, 27


Sioux Falls

“In this case for what she did, the standard should have been that she should have gotten death. When you have her chip up the person and you put her in a plastic sack, doing that justifies a death sentence.”

Tanya Miller, 33


Sioux Falls

“I think if there’s horrific crime, the death penalty can be a deterrent. If someone gets life in prison without parole, it’s difficult for me to see the point. Prisons are supposed to rehabilitate. Where’s the rehabilitation? I would rather spend our tax dollars on someone who could become a benefit to society.”

Ed Reitz, 66

Retired teacher

Sioux Falls

“First of all, they always look at deaf people as being disabled and deserving sympathy. … What she did is one of the worst crimes in history. But I leave it to the courts and the jury. What if it had been a more balanced jury? I don’t know. … I’m happy she is where she’s at. You do the crime, you do the time.

Mark Foss, 58

Cattle buyer

Orange City, Iowa

“I still got a lot of faith in the jury system. I’m a little prejudiced toward the victim because she’s from where I live, northwest Iowa. But I put my trust and faith in the jury. From the outside looking in, it would be easy to go with emotions.”

Michaela Stump,

25, Sioux Falls,


“I guess I’m kind of an eye-for-an-eye person. You killed somebody, you should pay for it. Don’t make sentences automatic; that would dehumanize it. There’s a lot of special interest involved here, such as disability, color, sexuality, gender. It’s funny when you’re striving for equality, and then you get treated as a special interest.”

Bala Kapa, 32


Sioux Falls

“If you kill somebody, you should get the death penalty, if it’s a really intentional killing.”

Linda Boyd, 60

Business owner

Sioux Falls

“I have a hard time reconciling it, having worked inside the penitentiary. But once you meet Robert LeRoy Anderson or Donald Moeller, it fits. Most people don’t know what that really means to have to do that.”

Jillian Besemer,

20, College st

dent, Sioux Falls

“I don’t think we should have the death penalty. If we say we are a civilized nation, we don’t have a right to take other people’s lives. If we live in the 21st century, we are so much past the need for a death penalty.”

Landers Harris,

71, Business

owner, Sioux


“When you take somebody’s life, the death penalty is in order. It is a horrible thing that she did. And I also think anyone who kills a child should get the death penalty.”

Jan Hansen, 33,

College student,


“I’m opposed to the death penalty. It only caters to revenge; it’s a cruel punishment.”

Katie Olson, 19

College student,

Lake Mills, Iowa

“I don’t think they should give her special treatment because she’s a woman or deaf. (People who are convicted of murder) should all be treated equally.”

Tom Fuller, 22


Sioux Falls

“I think if it’s a malicious act that goes beyond a crime of passion, … that should be enough right there.”

Mike Bickett, 31


Sioux Falls

“I’m for the death penalty, mainly when it comes to premeditated murder or overkill. Definitely for situations where depravity is involved. There are some cases that just demand it.”

Larry Dexter, 59

Truck driver

Sioux Falls

“I think she called for it. I wouldn’t even give her breakfast in the morning. Do you realize how much it will cost to keep her in prison the rest of her life? You take someone’s life, you lose your own.”

Brandon Elsasser,

20, Augie st

dent, Omaha

“It comes down to the viciousness of the crime. If there are multiple deaths, if they suffered, then the death penalty would probably be a good thing to do. I don’t think something like that deserves the death penalty because it was a rash, one-time decision. We all make decisions and then go, ‘Wait a minute.'”


Deffenbaugh, 18,

Sioux Falls,


I just don’t believe in the death penalty. I think it’s more punishment to sit in prison.

Jenny Meiners,

31, Librarian,

Sioux Falls

“I’m not supportive of the death penalty. It’s really hard for me to choose a standard for something I don’t believe should have standards.”

Neil Downey, 33

Campus ministry

Sioux Falls

“I would almost hold off opposing the death penalty until a person shows remorse. The criminal justice system isn’t just for punishment. It’s to rehabilitate. It depends on a case by case basis.”

Darwin Wolf, 47

Sculptor, Sioux


I oppose the death penalty. There is no standard. I would rather save the state the money of the appeals process and save the room for error. The finality of the death penalty is beyond appeal.

Jerrica Gilbert, 22

Customer service

Sioux Falls

“I don’t understand why it takes so long. Elijah Page wanted to be killed. Look at the crime. Why make him live?”

Ron Cliff, 52


Sioux Falls

“I’d have to weigh each case by case – the situation, the circumstances and how heinous. A rigid set of standards would tie the hands of (jurors and prosecutors) when there could be extenuating circumstances.”

Terri Douglas, 45

Nurse, Brandon

“I don’t believe in the death sentence. That’s just because of my Christian background.”

Lyle Tebbe, 64


ing, Sioux Falls

The way it is, there are circumstances here that warranted life. The system is OK.

John Malual, 21

John Morrell

Sioux Falls

“I am from the Sudan, and it is not good to kill people for no reason. I believe someone who kills someone should be killed.”

Kiarra Edwards,

22, Customer se

vice, Sioux Falls

“I guess it depends on the crime, and then the person. I think it should be (based on) a set of guidelines. If (a juror is) having a bad day, you get the death penalty. On a good day, (they’ll) spare your life.”


Rasmussen, 25



It really depends. A person will suffer more for the crime in prison. They can learn from their mistakes and have remorse and suffer. It’s going to be much more difficult for a deaf person in prison because of the lack of communication.”

Jacob Ahl, 18

Crooks, student

“If you kill a person, you should be killed. That’s the way it should be.”

Les Meyer, 56

Sioux Falls


“It depends on the severity of the crime. It wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. How can you change the standard? I don’t know. Each crime is different. The juries will just have to analyze it.”

Rose Phipps, 22

Youth Enrichment

Services worker


“What she did was wrong. No person should ever be able to treat anyone else that way. But I have no standards for the death penalty.”

Elizabeth Miller, 22, Sioux Falls



“I don’t really agree with it because I think that life is much more of a punishment. There’s a fine line obviously if there’s torture involved.”

(( Source:  Argus Leader ))