Jury: Wright was shown mercy

SIOUX FALLS — Two members of a jury that convicted a deaf woman from Sioux Falls of murder this week say it didn’t take long to decide Daphne Wright should not get the death penalty.

The initial tally on the question of life in prison or lethal injection was seven in favor of life and at least four jurors undecided, the Argus Leader reported Friday in a copyright story.

One juror says none of them favored the death penalty, but another juror says one member of the jury initially felt Wright should be executed.

Jurors agree, however, that they showed Wright more mercy than she showed her victim, Darlene VanderGiesen.

“I felt like it was all 12 of us saying, ‘We grant you mercy,”’ said the jury foreperson, Frost-Elshami, a 38-year-old housewife and mother of two.

“We wanted her to know that we were more merciful to her than she was to Darlene,” said Lisa Wise, 42, a John Morrell employee who also sat on the jury.

VanderGiesen was either suffocated or died from a blow on the head early in February 2006. Her body was chopped up with a chain saw and dumped in two locations.

Wright will spend the rest of her life at the women’s prison in Pierre. The jury found her guilty of premeditated murder, kidnapping and murder while committing kidnapping.

In the death penalty phase, the jury’s decision had to be unanimous only if the verdict was death.

“We weren’t trying to convince anyone or change anyone’s mind. That’s really a moral decision,” Frost-Elshami said.

Wright is black and homosexual, but those factors were not part of the jury’s deliberations, the two jurors said.

“I didn’t look at what color she was, whether she was a lesbian, but the deafness played a role,” Wise said.

The jury’s sentence might have been death had the defendant been a man, she added.

Frost-Elshami said she was “amazed” at her jury peers. She said they focused on the evidence and not Wright’s race or sexual preference.

“It was really serious,” she said. “It’s something I don’t want to do again, but I really think it was the 12 best people who could have been chosen.”

Frost-Elshami said evidence presented during the trial showed that Wright’s parents were not involved in her schooling.

“I think Daphne was on her own from a very young age,” she said.

Wise said she strongly considered the death penalty as graphic photos of VanderGiesen’s body ran through her mind. She said the religious convictions and sense of forgiveness in VanderGiesen’s parents helped her agree on the life sentence.

“I can live with her never being able to get out of prison again. I can live with that,” Wise said.

(( Source:  Rapid City Journal / AP Newswire ))