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Jury Selection Starts In Woman’s S.D. Dismemberment Killing Trial

March 8, 2007

Associated Press Writer Thursday, March 08, 2007

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Jury selection started Monday for the trial of a deaf woman accused of kidnapping, killing and dismembering another deaf woman, South Dakota’s first capital punishment case with a female defendant.If Daphne Wright, 43, is convicted, jurors will be asked to sentence her to death by lethal injection for the slaying of Darlene VanderGiesen, 42.VanderGiesen disappeared on Feb. 1, 2006. Wright was arrested 10 days later after a search of the basement of her Sioux Falls house yielded bone fragments and tissue that matched DNA samples from VanderGiesen’s toothbrush, according to court papers and testimony.

Parts of VanderGiesen’s dismembered body were later found in the Sioux Falls landfill and in a ditch near Beaver Creek, Minn.

In a videotaped police interview shown at an earlier hearing, Wright said she and VanderGiesen had fought weeks earlier because Wright, a lesbian, suspected VanderGiesen of trying to break up Wright’s relationship with another woman.An autopsy determined that VanderGiesen was killed by either suffocation or a blow to the head.If she is sentenced to death, Wright could be the first woman to be executed in South Dakota. Four men are currently on death row. South Dakota has not had an execution in 60 years.

Wright’s lawyers have argued that although she is intelligent, executing her would amount to cruel and unusual punishment because her communication skills and control over her environment are limited by her deafness.

However, Circuit Judge Brad Zell said that was not supported by any state or federal law or court case. He said he found three cases in which the death penalty was imposed on a deaf person: in Texas in 1951, Florida in 1998 and Illinois in 2006.