CASPER, Wyo. — Attorneys for Wyoming’s only death row inmate have made additional claims in federal court that he didn’t receive a fair trial when he was sentenced to death for killing a Billings woman in 1988.
The new allegations, filed Sept. 30 in U.S. District Court, say that Dale Wayne Eaton should get a new sentencing hearing because of an error his trial attorney made and because Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen didn’t disclose a working relationship he had with a key prosecution witness.
State of Wyoming attorneys have repudiated both claims, claiming they are without merit and wouldn’t have affected Eaton’s death sentence.
The claims were added to a 300-page petition filed by Eaton’s attorneys in August alleging his trial attorney, Wyatt Skaggs of Laramie, didn’t provide effective legal assistance as required by the U.S. Constitution.
The full petition, scheduled to be heard starting in December, is the last legal recourse for Eaton to avoid being executed for the 1988 rape and murder in Natrona County of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell.
Kimmell disappeared in 1988 while driving from Colorado to Cody. A fisherman later found her body in the North Platte River. Investigators made little progress until 2002, when DNA evidence linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges.
Investigators later unearthed Kimmell’s car on Eaton’s property near Moneta. The Wyoming Supreme Court has already upheld his death sentence.
Eaton’s petition only requests a new sentencing process; it doesn’t seek to overturn his conviction.
In the Sept. 30 supplemental brief, Eaton’s attorneys claimed that Blonigen never disclosed that witness Joe Dax was assisting him in another murder trial, nor that Blonigen told others that he planned to recommend that Dax’s state aggravated burglary sentence run concurrent with his federal firearms sentence.
During Eaton’s trial, Dax testified that while they were both in jail, Eaton recounted the story of how Eaton got a ride from Kimmell and attacked her after she rejected his sexual advances. Dax’s testimony was a key part of the prosecution’s case, Eaton’s attorneys stated.
In their response, state attorneys said Dax’s relationship with Blonigen was irrelevant, as there’s no evidence that it would have affected Eaton being sentenced to death instead of life in prison.
Eaton’s attorneys also claim that Skaggs failed to make a hearsay objection during the trial when Natrona County Detective Dan Tholson testified that Eaton confessed his guilt to federal inmate Bret Hudson.
State attorneys responded that Tholson never made that claim during his testimony.
If Eaton’s petition is rejected, he could appeal to U.S. Circuit Court and to the U.S. Supreme Court before his legal options would be exhausted.