CODY – Arguments for Dennis Klingbeil’s April 13 Wyoming State Supreme Court appeals case are starting to take shape.
Both sides have submitted briefs, outlining their arguments to the court that will hinge on two pieces of evidence used during Klingbeil’s August 2019 jury trial.
On August 5, 2018, Dennis Klingbeil shot Donna Marie Klingbeil, his wife of 43 years. He was sentenced for first-degree murder in November 2019.
He submitted an appeal within a month of that sentencing as legally required. In January he submitted his formal argument for appeal.
He is being represented by Wyoming State Public Defender Diane Lozano, Public Defender Chief Appellate Counsel Kirk Morgan, and three staff members from the University of Wyoming Defender Aid Clinic.
The state responded with a brief on Feb. 26., filed by Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill, Deputy Attorney General Jenny Craig and Senior Assistant Attorney General Joshua Earnes.
In its response, the state makes the case that Park County District Court Judge Bill Simpson did not abuse his discretion when admitting prior evidence into the case, evidence that was used to show Klingbeil had a history of using weapons in a threatening manner during arguments. This testimony made up 2.3 percent of the overall testimony in the trial.
“The May 2011 incident was ‘highly relevant’ as to the issue in this case regarding intent, motive and the lack of mistake,” the state argues. “Moreover, the evidence was not cumulative of other evidence, especially when the issue on Klingbeil’s intent would be the seminal issue at trial.”
Klingbeil’s defense argued that this incident merely pertained to finances and never reached a violent or physical level.
The defense also brought up an opinion given by a forensic pathologist from the witness stand that Dennis Klingbeil’s action was homicide, arguing this statement could be considered prosecutorial misconduct for eliciting improper opinion testimony. Klingbeil’s attorneys did not object to this description during the trial.
The state made the argument that this evidence was proper, and should not be considered plain error. It referenced a 2018 Wyoming Supreme Court case, Neilsen v. State, in which a man was convicted of felony murder for abusing his girlfriend’s three-year-old son. In that case a pediatric nurse testified the child’s injuries were consistent with child physical abuse or non-accidental trauma. An appeal was rejected on the matter.
Klingbeil’s attorneys mentioned a different case in his argument in which police officers offered testimony that went beyond summarizing the facts of the investigation by offering their opinion that a defendant was guilty.
The state argued that if both pieces of evidence had been withheld from the case it still would not have changed the trial’s final outcome.
On March 15, the defense responded to the state’s argument and said State Pathologist Dr. Thomas Bennett, “went so far as to invade the province of the jury and give his ruling that this death was not an accident,” as well consistently using the word “homicide” to describe Donna Klingbeil’s death rather than merely describing her death as a result of a gunshot wound.
“Accidental death was a central theory of the defense case at trial, and using this language took away the jury’s role as fact-finder,” the defense argued. “A homicide is not a medical diagnosis. In Neilsen, the nurse’s testimony, which was the main focus of this court’s analysis, was based on her observations while the child was still alive… . It was imperative for her to make this diagnosis.”
No response to the issue of the 2011 evidence was submitted in their response.
Klingbeil’s appeal will be heard at 10:10 a.m. on April 13. Live audio broadcast can be accessed at courts.state.wy.us. If Klingbeil wins his appeal, the case will be returned to Park County District Court to be retried.