- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - The Wyoming Attorney General’s Office is fighting an attempt to block the state from again seeking the death penalty against a convicted murderer.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne in November overturned the death penalty sentence of Dale Wayne Eaton, 69. Eaton was convicted in 2004 of murdering 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana. Eaton’s lawyers don’t dispute he killed her.

Johnson agreed with Eaton’s appellate legal team that his trial lawyers had failed to provide him an adequate defense and failed to present details of his background and personal history that might have convinced jurors to spare his life. The judge gave state prosecutors a choice of either empaneling a new jury to consider whether Eaton deserves the death penalty or keeping him in prison for life without parole.

Casper District Attorney Mike Blonigen, who originally prosecuted Eaton, filed papers in Natrona County District Court last week stating that he intends once again to seek death for Eaton.

Before Johnson’s order, Eaton had been the only person on death row in Wyoming.

Kimmell vanished in 1988 while driving solo across Wyoming. Fishermen later found her body in the North Platte River.

Investigators got a break in 2002, when DNA evidence taken from Kimmell’s body linked Eaton to the case while he was in prison on unrelated charges. Investigators then unearthed her missing car on his property.

Authorities say Eaton kept Kimmell captive in a rundown compound in Moneta, west of Casper and raped her before the killing.

Eaton’s legal team put on an evidentiary hearing in 2013 before Johnson in which they called many witnesses, including relatives and mental health professionals, who gave details about his tortured family history, childhood and long-term mental and emotional problems. They argued that the jury might have spared his life if they knew more about him.

Following Johnson’s ruling, Eaton’s lawyers asked him to reconsider giving the state the option of seeking the death penalty again. They argued that too much time had passed since his original trial and that many people who knew him are no longer alive or otherwise unavailable to testify.

Eaton’s lawyers also asked Johnson to seal the transcripts of the 2013 evidentiary hearing and forbid the state from using the materials it gathered during his federal appeal during any resentencing hearing.

The Attorney General’s Office filed a response on Monday urging Johnson to reject taking the death penalty off the table and allow the state to use material developed in the federal appeal. It argued that witnesses’ earlier statements could be presented to a new jury.

Senior Assistant Attorney General J. Michael Causey declined comment Tuesday, as did Terry Harris of Cheyenne, an attorney for Eaton.

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