Daphne Wright Is Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder, Kidnapping
Daphne Wright is led into the courthouse on Friday. (Lloyd Cunningham / Argus Leader)
Daphne Wright is found guilty of first-degree murder, kidnapping
She cries as verdict is read; jurors need time to compose themselves
Published: April 12, 2007
The jury considering Daphne Wright’s fate found her guilty of first-degree murder, felony murder and kidnapping of Darlene VanderGiesen.
As the verdict was announced, Wright wiped her eyes, apparently crying.
Minnehaha County State’s Attorney Dave Nelson turned around to give the victim’s parents a grim nod. Her mother, Dee VanderGiesen, smiled slightly.
One by one, VanderGiesen family members and friends filed past Nelson and his assistants, hugging them, shaking their hands.
Today’s verdict came after about eight hours of deliberations.
Wright now faces the possibility of death by injection. If sentenced to death, she would be the first woman on South Dakota’s death row.
Testimony in the sentencing phase could begin as early as Monday.
The jurors – 11 women and one man – began their deliberations at 5 p.m. Wednesday, then retired for the night around 9:30 p.m. They resumed their deliberations around 9 a.m. this morning.
Wright, 43, was indicted on kidnapping and premeditated murder charges for the Feb. 1, 2006, death of 42-year-old Darlene VanderGiesen.
After the verdict was read, jurors were led out of the coutroom so lawyers and the judge could discuss what’s next.
But it took several minutes for the jury to return to the courtroom when summoned.
“The reason for the delay is some of the jurors are trying to compose themselves and so we’re giving them a few minutes to do that,” Judge Brad Zell said in court.
In four hours of closing arguments Wednesday, the state asked jurors to use common sense, and the defense asked them to focus on what is not known about the woman’s death.
Nelson pieced together a wealth of physical and circumstantial evidence to tell his theory of the events.
Upset about Darlene VanderGiesen’s purported attempts to “destroy” her lesbian relationship, Wright set up a meeting with the victim the evening of Feb. 1 at the Pizza Hut at 26th Street and Sycamore Avenue.
Wright somehow got VanderGiesen into her vehicle and later that day killed her with blows to the head and by suffocating her with a plastic bag secured tightly at her neck, Nelson said.
The defendant waited two days for a check to arrive, bought a chain saw and then, Nelson said, hacked the victim’s body into four pieces in the defendant’s basement at 1806 S. Phillips Ave.
Wright’s defense lawyers focused on a lack of direct evidence of either kidnapping or premeditated murder.
Minnehaha County Public Defender Traci Smith told jurors that the dismemberment evidence prosecutors relied on so heavily is irrelevant because it occurred after VanderGiesen’s death.
“The evidence that was presented all has to do with what happened two days later – at least two days later,” Smith said. “Once a person is deceased, the crime is done.”
Nelson responded in his closing rebuttal that the state’s evidence strongly supports their theory of kidnapping and premeditated murder.
“It’s the circumstances surrounding all of the events that lead us to the inescapable conclusion,” he said, calling the evidence “overwhelming.”
For more on this story, stay with argusleader.com and see Friday’s Argus Leader.