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Juror Reflects On Last Death Penalty Case

April 1, 2014, 5:59 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Juror Reflects On Last Death Penalty Case

It's been seven years since a group of Minnehaha County residents have been asked to consider executing a violent criminal.  Wednesday, a group of 15 will again be asked to weigh that fate for James McVay.

A jury of ten men and five women were seated Tuesday and opening arguments will be heard Wednesday morning.

McVay pleaded guilty but mentally ill for the July 2011 murder of Maybelle Schein and now faces execution.

The last jury to hear a capital case was a group that decided to sentence Daphne Wright to life in prison instead of the death penalty in 2007.  Erin Frost-Elshami was the jury foreperson.

"You really just need to keep an open mind," Frost-Elshami said.

Frost-Elshami and her fellow jurors were asked to consider the death penalty for Wright after she murdered Darlene VanderGiesen and dismembered the body with a chainsaw.

Frost-Elshami says they were not allowed to talk with other jurors about the case until deliberations began, so they got to know each other personally before the life or death decision was made.

"You really get to know each other as people and then all of a sudden you're talking about the balance of someone's life, and the loss of someone's life in our case, and you can feel the weight of it," Frost-Elshami said.

Frost-Elshami says one of the biggest factors in deliberations was the forgiveness and kindness VanderGiesen's family showed despite the harm Wright caused.

She adds that when faced with the weight of deciding whether someone will live or die, jurors consider the facts but the ultimate decision comes down to what a juror feels in his or her heart that guides the decision.

"You have to weigh it in your own heart and just decide what as a human you would truly think another human would be the right punishment for them," Frost-Elshami said.

The McVay case starts Wednesday morning. Jurors will first be asked if McVay's crime qualifies for capital punishment under South Dakota law. If it does, then they will be asked to sentence him to life in prison or the death penalty.

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