:: Argus Leader Media – Extra steps taken as murder trial starts ::

Extra steps taken as murder trial starts


Security, technology play big roles in Wright case

By Josh Verges
jverges@argusleader.com
Published: April 2, 2007

Wright.jpgMinnehaha County court officials have assigned seats, installed projection screens and beefed up security for the Daphne Wright murder trial, which begins this morning.

With a woman’s life in the balance, court officials are trying to ensure both a fair trial and public access.

The murder trial of the 43-year-old Wright of Sioux Falls will begin with opening statements. The state has about 30 witnesses it could call during the next three to four weeks.

Judge Brad Zell will handle what goes on inside the courtroom and has assigned Second Circuit Administrator Karl Thoennes to otherwise plan for the anticipated spectacle.

The court has assigned seats and will be granting passes for reporters and family members of both Wright and her alleged victim.

Cameras will be kept off the fourth floor, where the trial will take place, and one of two entrances to Courtroom 4B will be closed to keep disruptions to a minimum.

Extra security will monitor what is expected to be an overflow crowd that includes observers from the Sioux Falls deaf community.

Lawyers for Wright, who is deaf, black and a lesbian, have expressed concern about getting a fair trial before an all-white jury. Wright is accused of killing Darlene VanderGiesen, 42, in February 2006. VanderGiesen also was deaf.

“Any trial that’s going to have special interests is probably going to draw people from that interest group,” said Pat Garcia Duggan, Third Circuit Court Administrator.

Garcia Duggan handled Gov. Bill Janklow’s 2003 manslaughter case in Flandreau, and she’s counseled Thoennes and Zell in recent weeks on how to prepare for the attention.

Thoennes is ready for a crush, but he’s not convinced it will come. He said that aside from ABC’s national story on Wright’s pretrial motions and CNN’s expressed interest in setting up a satellite truck, calls have been limited to local media.

“I continue to be amazed,” he said. “We go into trials that I’d think would be really high profile, and there’s no one in the courtroom.”

Thoennes said about a dozen people have called to ask when the courthouse opens. (About 6:30 a.m., and the early birds will get the 56 available seats.)

Among those inside the courtroom will be five American Sign Language interpreters. Two hired by the court will take turns signing everything said in court, and their hands will be video-recorded from across the room; a third interpreter will sign for deaf witnesses. Continue

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