Judge Appoints Defense Team for Dale Eaton in Death Sentence Re-hearing
Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen's desire to hold new death penalty hearing for murderer Dale Eaton inched forward Friday.
During a short status conference, Natrona County District Court Judge Daniel Forgey named two attorneys to handle the defense of Eaton, who was convicted in 2004 of the 1988 murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell and was sentenced to death.
Eaton himself was not in court on Friday.
The legal wranglings began November when Wyoming U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson overturned the sentence, writing that the state violated Eaton's Sixth and 14th Amendment rights by failing to provide or allow effective representation.
That sent the case back to Natrona County District Court.
Further complicating matters is that Johnson's order required a new death penalty hearing to be set within 120 of his order.
Johnson gave Blonigen the choice of letting Eaton serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole or to again argue for the death penalty. Blonigen wanted the death penalty.
Eaton’s murder conviction itself is not being challenged.
A new hearing for the death penalty in district court would require Eaton to have a defense team not related to the Wyoming Public Defender's office.
On Jan. 5, Blonigen filed a motion asking the court for an evaluating of Eaton's competency and for the appointment of a defense counsel, and to let the state district court know he was seeking the death penalty.
Terry Harris, who is representing Eaton in the federal courts, told the state district court 15 days later that he wanted a delay in the state proceedings until matters in federal court had been resolved, according to a document filed by Forgey. Any state district court proceedings would be premature, Harris wrote.
That, in effect, stopped Johnson's 120-day deadline.
On July 1, Forgey wrote that Harris had not sent state district court any information indicating the federal proceedings were over since Harris' Jan. 20 request to delay the proceedings. "This court is perplexed, under these circumstances, to learn that there appear to be ongoing issues litigated in the federal court regarding this court having to yet appointed the defendant counsel," Forgey wrote.
Blonigen, however, wanted the state court to proceed regardless of Eaton's legal matters before the Wyoming U.S. District Court or the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
So Friday, Forgey held the status conference to further move along the local proceedings.
He appointed Harris as associate counsel for Eaton. And Forgey will name Sean O'Brien as the lead counsel as soon as certain paperwork is cleared through the Wyoming State Bar. Harris and O'Brien are part of Eaton's legal team in the federal habeas corpus hearing in federal court.
Forgey said he wanted to conduct another status conference in a couple weeks.