- Associated Press - Monday, January 26, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Lawyers for convicted murderer Dale Wayne Eaton say years of negative publicity prompted by improper statements from prosecutors to the media would make it impossible for him to get a fair rehearing on whether he deserves the death penalty for the murder of a Montana woman.

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.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne in November overturned Eaton’s death penalty, ruling he didn’t get an adequate defense and that his legal team failed to present detail about his personal history and background to the jury as it considered whether to put him to death. Before Johnson’s order, Eaton had been the only person on death row in Wyoming.

Johnson gave state prosecutors the option of holding a new sentencing hearing to allow a jury to decide whether to impose the death penalty against Eaton, or sending him to prison for life without parole. Casper District Attorney Michael Blonigen recently filed notice that he intends to proceed with a new death penalty hearing.

Lawyers for Eaton have asked Johnson to reconsider his order. They say too many witnesses have died who could have testified about Eaton’s background to try to convince a jury that his life had value.

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

Investigators tied Eaton to the crime 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 killing her.

On Monday, Eaton’s legal team filed hundreds of pages of exhibits with Johnson showing the extent of press coverage of his state court trial, state appeal and subsequent federal appeal. Some of the articles include speculation that he is a serial killer responsible for many unsolved homicides.

“The difficulty of providing Mr. Eaton a fair capital sentencing trial free of taint from his previous unconstitutional sentencing trial is compounded by statements of Wyoming government officials who persist in trying Mr. Eaton in the media rather than in a court of law,” Eaton’s lawyers wrote.

Eaton’s lawyers single out Blonigen, who originally prosecuted Eaton in state court. Eaton’s lawyers say Blonigen made inflammatory comments to the press about the case. The lawyers also criticize Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael, who issued a statement after Johnson’s order overturning Eaton’s death sentence saying he disagreed with the judge.

Cheyenne lawyer Terry Harris, one of the lawyers representing Eaton, declined comment Monday. An attempt to reach Michael wasn’t immediately successful on Monday.

Blonigen on Monday said he hadn’t seen Eaton’s latest filing.

“It’s obvious the primary motivation is delay,” he said. “But that’s the name of the game in this sort of litigation right now.”

Blonigen said he has followed the rules of professional conduct in speaking with the media about the case.

“You have to appreciate that you have to say something when these cases of great public interest occur,” he said. “We haven’t commented on specific evidence, or argued the case in the press.”

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