Wapiti murder trial set for March

By CJ Baker

Powell Tribune

Via Wyoming News Exchange

POWELL — With his office shorthanded, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric has hired one of Wyoming’s most seasoned prosecutors to assist with an upcoming murder trial. 

Skoric is pursuing a firstdegree murder charge against Dennis Klingbeil. The prosecutor alleges that the 76-year-old Wapiti resident killed his wife, 75-year-old Donna Klingbeil, in a dispute over the couple’s assets. 

Klingbeil has pleaded not guilty and demanded his right to a speedy trial. He and his defense attorney, Donna Domonkos, are set to take their case to a jury March 4 through 14 in Cody. 

Last week, former Natrona County District Attorney Mike Blonigen filed a court document announcing that he’s joining the case as a special deputy Park County prosecuting attorney.

Blonigen has spent more than 30 years as a prosecutor and just wrapped up a 15-year run as the Natrona County DA. Before leaving office at the end of December, he told the Casper Star-Tribune that he was hoping to spend more time in the courtroom — and he’s now lined up to try Klingbeil’s case in Cody’s District Courtroom in a few weeks. 

Skoric said he feels “extremely fortunate” that Blonigen was willing to lend a hand. 

One of Skoric’s deputies, Branden Vilos, left for a position in the Albany County Public Defender’s Office earlier this month. Vilos had been handling civil matters, Wyoming Game and Fish Department cases and some felonies, and that work now needs to be picked up by Skoric and the remaining three deputies. 

Beyond the Klingbeil case, Blonigen has agreed to assist with other felony prosecutions as necessary. 

“It’s a temporary deal until I get that [deputy] position filled,” Skoric said. Blonigen is generally working from Casper (traveling to Cody when necessary) and billing for his work by the hour.

Blonigen may perhaps be best known for prosecuting the state’s last successful death penalty case: He helped put Dale Wayne Eaton on death row for the 1988 murder of Lisa Marie Kimmell, though that sentence was later overturned on appeal. 

Skoric formally announced last month that his office will not be seeking the death penalty for Klingbeil. 

After that filing, District Court Judge Bill Simpson technically lowered Klingbeil’s bond; the suspect had been held without bail since his arrest, but earlier this month, Simpson set Klingbeil’s bond at $10 million. 

In arguing for the unusually high amount, Skoric has cited, in part, Klingbeil’s “significant assets.” 

Investigators with the Park County Sheriff’s Office allege in court filings that Klingbeil had been in a long-running dispute with his late wife, Donna, over how their trusts should be divided. Hours before Donna was fatally shot in the head, she reportedly told her son that she and Klingbeil were arguing over the trusts, which hold various pieces of real estate in Cody and Florida. 

Later on the night of Aug. 6, Klingbeil allegedly called his son and said he’d killed Donna. He also allegedly reported taking numerous medications, in what authorities believe was an attempt to take his own life. 

Klingbeil spent several days recovering at West Park Hospital in Cody before being arrested and booked into the Park County Detention Center. 

Skoric has been seeking permission from Judge Simpson to introduce statements that Klingbeil gave to two mental healthcare providers during his hospital stay. Whatever Klingbeil said is not included in court documents. 

However, Skoric said in a filing that if the two Yellowstone Behavioral Health workers are not allowed to testify at trial about their conversations with Klingbeil, “it would severely prejudice this case and could result in a miscarriage of justice.” 

Domonkos, meanwhile, has asked the judge to suppress the statements that Klingbeil made during his mental health assessment. Given his mental condition at the time, Domonkos said Klingbeil’s statements were involuntary and should not be presented to a jury. 

“The defendant was just coming out of a potentially fatal coma. The defendant was suicidal. The defendant did not understand what was happening ...,” Domonkos wrote, noting that Klingbeil was reportedly confused about who should sign a form listing his constitutional rights.

Domonkos has not indicated what defense she will present at trial, though she said in a September filing that the prosecution “cannot rule accident or justifiable homicide.” 

To convict him of first-degree murder, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Dennis Klingbeil killed Donna Klingbeil “purposely and with premeditated malice.”