CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A psychiatrist who evaluated Wyoming’s lone death row inmate before his state court trial nearly 10 years ago testified Wednesday that new evidence unearthed by the inmate’s appellate legal team now indicates he suffers from mental illness. Dr. Kenneth Ash said, based on the new information, he would now be comfortable diagnosing inmate Dale Wayne Eaton as suffering from a mental illness called bipolar 2. People suffering from bipolar 2 have periods of depression interspersed with intense activity.
Although Ash, of Windsor, Colo., testified at Eaton’s state court trial, he said Wednesday the information supporting his current diagnosis of Eaton included detailed medical records about Eaton and his relatives that wasn’t available to him then.
Eaton, 68, was convicted in 2004 of the 1988 rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell, 18, of Billings, Mont.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson is now in the second week of a federal court hearing in Cheyenne on claims by Eaton’s appellate lawyers that he didn’t get an adequate defense from the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office before receiving the death penalty in state court.
Eaton’s current lawyers don’t dispute that he killed Kimmell. She vanished while driving across Wyoming, and her body was later found in the North Platte River. In 2002, DNA testing linked Eaton to the murder while he was in prison on unrelated charges.
At the time of Kimmel’s murder, Eaton was living by himself in a rundown compound in Moneta, west of Casper. He kept Kimmell captive there for several days, authorities say, and raped her before killing her and burying her car on the property.
Johnson has ruled Eaton’s lawyers and lawyers from the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office may present evidence on whether Eaton’s original defense team failed to develop a workable attorney-client relationship and whether they failed to investigate aspects of Eaton’s life that might have persuaded the jury to spare him the death penalty.
Since the hearing started last month in Johnson’s court, Eaton’s new legal team has called witnesses, including Eaton’s ex-wife, to testify about his background and mental health history. Lawyer Sean O’Brien, a Missouri law professor and death penalty specialist, is on Eaton’s legal team.
O’Brien presented Ash on Wednesday with detailed school, mental health and medical records of Eaton and his relatives going back decades. O’Brien also presented several statements from people who knew Eaton when he was growing up in Meeker, Colo., who remarked on his family’s poverty and stated he had suffered violent abuse in the family home.
Under questioning from O’Brien, Ash said it would have made a dramatic difference in his testimony at Eaton’s state court trial if he had seen information about Eaton’s background then. Instead, he said his testimony at trial was based only on limited records, investigators’ report of the crime and a few interviews with Eaton himself. “That left a very limited picture,” he said.
Under questioning by James Michael Causey, a senior lawyer at the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, Ash said it would be helpful to interview Eaton again based on the new information to make a final diagnosis of his mental condition. Ash told Causey that he didn’t want to see an FBI report that detailed the sexual abuse Kimmell suffered.
Sheila and Ron Kimmell of Canon City, Colo., the victim’s parents, sat on the front row for Wednesday’s hearing.
Sheila Kimmell, who has authored a book about her daughter’s slaying, said after the hearing that it’s frustrating for her that the legal system moves so slowly.
“I think that either way you look at it, whether it’s my daughter’s side or the other side, you’ve got to give adequate time to it,” she said.