- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A Wyoming judge is weighing a request to appoint lawyers to represent inmate Dale Wayne Eaton in a possible new death penalty hearing even as a federal judge considers whether the state has forfeited its standing to seek to execute him.

State District Judge Daniel L. Forgey of Casper filed notice in state and federal courts last week saying he’s perplexed that the federal courts are questioning whether Wyoming may still pursue the death penalty against Eaton on the grounds that Forgey hasn’t yet appointed lawyers to represent him in state court.

Forgey noted in his case status order that Terry Harris, a Cheyenne lawyer representing Eaton in federal court, notified Forgey in January that it would be premature to hold any proceedings in state court while Eaton’s federal appeals were still pending.

Another member of Eaton’s legal team argued at a federal court hearing last week that it amounted to a clear constitutional violation for the state not to have appointed lawyers for Eaton in state court.

Attempts to reach Harris and Forgey for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne last fall overturned Eaton’s death sentence in the 1988 slaying of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana. Johnson ruled Eaton didn’t receive an adequate defense at his trial in 2004.

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

In his ruling, Johnson said the state had to appoint new, qualified lawyers for Eaton within 120 days if it wanted to stage a new death penalty hearing against him in state court. Otherwise, Johnson said, Eaton would serve life in prison.

Eaton’s current federal court lawyers don’t dispute that he killed Kimmell. His DNA matched genetic material found in her body, which was dumped in the North Platte River. Investigators later unearthed her missing car on his property in Moneta.

Casper District Attorney Michael Blonigen was the original prosecutor against Eaton in state court. Blonigen filed papers in January with Forgey announcing his intention to seek the death penalty against Eaton again.

Eaton’s federal court lawyers early this year appealed Johnson’s order giving the state the option of again seeking to put Eaton to death. They argued on appeal to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that too many witnesses who had known Eaton when he was a free man had died in the intervening years for him to have a fair death penalty hearing in state court.

The appeals court recently ordered Johnson to address whether the death penalty was still an issue in the case given the state’s failure to appoint new lawyers for Eaton in state court.

Johnson last week concluded that the state had violated his order by failing to appoint new lawyers for Eaton. He ordered lawyers representing the Wyoming attorney general’s office and Eaton to file written arguments on whether the state’s violation should foreclose the state from seeking to put him to death.

Forgey held a hearing Tuesday in Casper to consider appointment of lawyers to represent Eaton in his court but didn’t rule on it immediately. Harris and other lawyers who represent Eaton in Johnson’s court are bidding to represent him in state court.

Blonigen said Wednesday he had no comment on Forgey’s statement that he found the federal court arguments on whether the state could still seek to put Eaton to death perplexing.

“We simply want to assure that Judge Johnson’s order is complied with,” Blonigen said.

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This article has been corrected to reflect the state court hearing was held Tuesday.


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