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Some Question Fairness In Wright Trial

April 6, 2007, 4:24 PM by Lou Raguse

Some Question Fairness In Wright Trial
A week into Daphne Wright's murder trial, and some deaf people around the country still wonder whether it's possible for her to get a fair trial. 

Wright's lawyers say she's fairly intelligent; her IQ is 110. But the deaf woman only reads English at a third-grade level.

Photo: Daphne Wright

That leads some activists to question whether the courtroom accommodations are enough to make sure she understands the proceedings.

Wright uses American Sign Language, which isn't just the English language spelled out into signs. ASL is its own language, with different sentence structures than English. So even though the judge took some extra steps to accommodate her in the courtroom for the trial, some people think Wright still has trouble understanding everything that's going on.

Deaf civil rights activist Elizabeth Gillespie from Maryland runs a blog, commenting on issues involving deaf people around the country. In recent weeks, her topic of choice has been the murder trial of Daphne Wright, the deaf woman accused of murdering and dismembering another deaf woman, Darlene VanderGiesen. 

Gillespie immediately wondered whether Wright can fully understand what's said in the courtroom. In an online interview with KELOLAND News she writes:

"I am impressed with the efforts of her lawyer. She is trying her best. But unfortunately, I don't feel [Wright] is getting a fair trial due to the denial of a certified deaf interpreter."

Wright understands ASL, or American Sign Language. But she's not as proficient in written English. That was evident in court this week as prosecutors introduced notes she wrote while being investigated. Wright's sentences are not grammatically correct, in part, because of the translation that's lost through ASL to English. 

That's why Gillespie says courtroom accommodations like this real-time text translator don't necessarily help Wright. 

The courtroom interpreters in Wright's trial do translate the spoken English into ASL. But Gillespie worries, with the speed everyone talks and all the complicated concepts in a courtroom, the interpreters would have trouble clearly translating everything. 

Gillespie writes: "This would be very difficult to do if the interpreting is simultaneous" 

A certified deaf interpreter, which Gillespie believes Wright needs, is a second interpreter who, like the defendant, is deaf. The CDI would watch the main interpreter then retranslate everything to Wright to ensure comprehension. The defense asked a CDI, but Judge Brad Zell rejected the request in an earlier hearing, determining that the interpretation is sufficient.

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