By Leo Wolfson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — A new prosecutor and possible new evidence is entering the fold in the investigation of Wapiti man Dennis Klingbeil, charged with the first-degree murder of his wife Donna Klingbeil in August 2018.
Last week the state submitted a notice of intent to enter new evidence regarding Klingbeil’s behavior prior to the murder, with decades of accounts from his family members. The new evidence attempts to prove a trend of premeditated malice exhibited by Dennis Klingbeil.
Brad Lanken, Donna Klingbeil’s son, told investigators the Klingbeils’ relations had turned particularly sour in January 2018 from disputes regarding the couple’s financial trust, which both Klingbeils alleged were valued around $10 million.
Lanken said Dennis Klingbeil shorted his mother what he estimates was $500,000 of her fair share of money in the couple’s quitclaim deeds signed five days before the murder. Lanken said Donna threatened her husband with divorce and to turn him in to the IRS, to which he would turn “white as a ghost,” Lanken recounted from his mother’s account.
Authorities said a safe containing “a large amount of cash” was found in the house while investigating the crime scene of the murder. Lanken said his mother told him he suspected Dennis Klingbeil was “skimming” and under-reporting money.
The evidence alleges disagreements became more and more bitter between the couple as 2018 progressed. As Donna Klingbeil threatened divorce Dennis Klingbeil in return indirectly threatened ending both of their lives, saying neither party would get any part of the trust if divorce were to occur.
Lanken also said his mother told him Dennis Klingbeil was seen blankly staring from a seated position on the couple’s couch, shortly before her murder.
The new evidence said Klingbeil has been inconsistent in his explanation for his wife’s killing, saying he killed her while angered but also accidentally, mentioning dry firing the murder weapon, a .38 caliber pistol, previously.
A 2011 domestic disturbance incident was also revealed in which the couple was arguing about the trust. In this incident Klingbeil is accused of placing a handgun on a kitchen table before him when the dispute became heated. No charges or citations were leveled from this encounter.
According to court documents, using firearms as a threat was not unusual for Dennis Klingbeil to employ.
Joel Lanken, Donna’s other son, described an encounter when Klingbeil placed a gun to his head at his home in Florida, and Brad Lanken mentioned a disturbing encounter when Dennis Klingbeil allegedly placed a gun to his head when he was 16 years old, telling him he could “easily kill him and dump him in the bay,” referring to Biscayne Bay which was near their Florida home.
Klingbeil’s attorney Donna Domonkos, of Cheyenne-based Domonkos Law Office, has opposed statements made by Klingbeil in a health assessment Aug. 8, three days after he allegedly shot his wife.
“The defendant was just coming out of a potentially fatal coma,” Domonkos wrote in the motion. “The defendant was suicidal. The defendant did not understand what was happening which is evident from the fact he believed his son, as his power of attorney, could sign a document stating the defendant understood his rights. Any statements made during this assessment in the presence of law enforcement should be suppressed as voluntary statements.”
Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric has recruited the help of former Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen to assist with Klingbeil’s prosecution as a special deputy prosecuting attorney.
Branden Vilos, a former deputy attorney in Park County, took a job with the Albany County Public Defender’s Office this month, leaving a gap in Skoric’s prosecuting support.
“Mr. Vilos has been working on the Klingbeil case since its inception,” Skoric said. “When you lose one of your four deputy prosecutors, you’ve just lost 25 percent of your workforce.”
Blonigen is a well-known prosecutor throughout the state, most notably winning Wyoming’s last death penalty case, the 1988 murder trial of Dale Wayne Eaton, though the death sentence was later successfully appealed. He recently retired in December.
“He was available and if any prosecutor could have Mr. Blonigen they’d take him,” Skoric said.
Skoric said Blonigen may take on other Park County felony cases before he hires a full-time deputy attorney, but at the moment is solely focused on the Klingbeil case.
Blonigen made a response to the defendant’s motion to suppress the health assessment statements and said since the information was garnered from “professionals working for non-government entities” they were therefore legally obtained, even though a deputy, Andy Magill, was standing in the room and was recently subpoenaed to testify during the March 4 jury trial. Blonigen said “under Wyoming law a medical provider can obtain involuntary commitment proceeding.”
“It is well accepted in Wyoming law that it is the manner the defendant answers which is critical to the voluntariness inquiry,” Blonigen wrote in his motion.
In those statements Blonigen said Klingbeil acknowledged killing his wife, “in a fit of rage” over an ongoing trust dispute. The revelation contrasts with Domonkos’s defense that Klingbeil’s actions were not the result of a premeditated event, a point she has used in prior proceedings to support a second-degree murder sentence.
After Dennis Klingbeil was denied bond on three occasions in the fall, District Court Judge Bill Simpson made a slight tweak to his order Monday, offering Dennis Klingbeil a $10 million cash-only bond. Klingbeil has been in custody since Aug. 9 for the Aug. 5 killing of his wife Donna Klingbeil.
Until Dec. 10, when Skoric officially announced he would not be seeking the death penalty in the murder trial, the 76-year-old defendant was still eligible for the death penalty and thus not subject to the Wyoming Constitution bail-mandate.