South Dakota Woman Could Be State's First Female to Face Death Penalty

A woman accused of killing and dismembering her former lover's friend was convicted Thursday of premeditated murder and could become the state's first female defendant to face the death penalty.

Daphne Wright, 43, cried as the verdict was read.

The same jury that found her guilty will consider whether to sentence her to death by lethal injection.

Prosecutors said Wright was jealous of Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, because of her friendship with Wright's former lover. The jealousy turned to rage that drove Wright to kidnap VanderGiesen, kill her, cut apart the body with a chain saw and burn it, according to the prosecution.

Prosecutors accuse Daphne Wright, 43, of abducting, killing and dismembering Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, in February 2006. Remains were found in a Minnesota ditch and a Sioux Falls landfill. All three women were deaf and knew each other through the deaf community.

"This is not a game. This is real life. And Darlene VanderGiesen is really dead," State Attorney Dave Nelson said. "This defendant really killed her. And that's what all of the evidence in this case proves."

Traci Smith, one of Wright's public defense lawyers, said prosecutors provided no evidence from the day VanderGiesen disappeared to prove kidnapping or murder, and instead focused on the dismemberment.

"Take yourself outside the emotions of the chain saw. This is a sad case. Darlene VanderGiesen died, and no verdict you bring is going to bring Darlene back," she said. "The state wants you to be distracted from the important aspects of this case: What happened on February 1st, 2006?"

Wright was found guilty of first-degree murder, first-degree premeditated murder and kidnapping.