Judge overturns death penalty for US state inmate
CHEYENNE, Wyoming (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday overturned the death sentence of the lone inmate on Wyoming’s death row, saying his trial lawyers had failed to give jurors sufficient reason to spare his life.
Lawyers handling the federal appeal of 69-year-old Dale Wayne Eaton didn’t dispute that he had killed 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Montana.
Instead, they argued that his previous attorneys from the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office failed to present factors that might have given jurors a reason to consider sparing his life, such his low intelligence and abuse he suffered as a child.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson gave Wyoming a choice of either granting a new sentencing hearing for Eaton within 120 days or keeping him locked up for life without parole.
Casper District Attorney Michael Blonigen, who initially prosecuted Eaton in state court, said Thursday he’s ready to argue again that Eaton deserves the death penalty, although he hopes the attorney general appeals the judge’s ruling.
Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1988 rape and murder of Kimmell. She had disappeared in 1988 while driving across Wyoming. Her body was found in a river.
The investigation stalled until 2002, when DNA evidence linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges. Investigators then unearthed Kimmell’s missing car on his property.
Eaton was convicted in state court and sentenced to death. His new lawyers appealed the sentence to Johnson after the Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the sentence.
Attorney General Peter Michael issued a statement Thursday that although he holds the court in the highest regard, he was disappointed by Johnson’s order.
“Wyoming prosecutors recognize the seriousness of capital punishment and seek it in only the most egregious cases,” Michael stated. “Mr. Eaton’s kidnapping, rape and murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell is one such case.”