For the first time in his trial Dennis Klingbeil took the stand and spoke on Thursday.
“She was the sweetest person in the world,” he said through tears, of his late wife Donna Klingbeil.
Klingbeil, dressed in a black suit and a blue dress shirt underneath, gave his account of the shooting to the courtroom.
He said after considering committing suicide with the eventual murder weapon, he brought the gun down from his head. Donna he said, sitting at his feet in close proximity, was then struck by a single bullet when he inadvertently caused the gun to discharge.
“I was trying to put the hammer back in the safety position and all of a sudden the gun went off,” he said, breaking into tears and trailing off before resuming. “It was like an alarm going off, quite startling. I saw my wife falling back and said, ‘Oh my god.’”
Mike Blonigen, special prosecutor for the state, weighed into Dennis with a blistering attack of interrogative questions. He also repeated the same question multiple times, sometimes in immediate fashion, posing questions such as how long it was after the shooting it took him to recover his memory that it happened as an accident and when did he first remember attempting to commit suicide the night of the alleged event.
The high-intensity barrage appeared to leave Klingbeil frustrated at times.
“There’s a lot of questions and you’re saying it very adversarially (sic) and it’s hard to comprehend sometimes,” Klingbeil responded at one juncture.
Blonigen pressured Klingbeil on his inconsistent statements regarding the shooting in the month following the event. When Blonigen asked Dennis to refer to his differentiating statements, vaguely calling out specific dates from about 11 months ago, Klingbeil appeared to become flustered and irritated.
The state appeared to take a significant bite out of Dennis Klingbeil’s case earlier in the day with testimony provided from Dr. Thomas Bennett, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Donna Klingbeil’s body.
Bennett said with unequivocal certainty, the bullet that entered Donna’s body had to have come from a close range pistol, due to the shape of the entry wound and gunpowder trails around the wound
“All of these features proved it was a contact wound,” Bennett said.
The defendant is posing the argument that he accidentally shot his .38 caliber gun from the area of his lap, a farther distance.
Rives White, one of Klingbeil’s attorneys, questioned Bennett about the lack of muzzle imprint on Donna’s skin. Bennett did say this left some doubt about the distance of the shot, but went on to explain in redirect examination from Blonigen this could be attributed to the design of the .38 caliber associated with the shooting.
“The slightly recessed end of the barrel could attribute to the lack of contact imprint,” he said.
Earlier in the day the defense called back to the stand Phil Johnson, a Park County sheriff’s office deputy, who said recollection for traumatizing events can sometimes be delayed.
“It depends on the event, it (memory) can be foggy right after an event,” he said.
In a phone call made on Sept. 2, 2018, Klingbeil told his son’s wife he had “just snapped” the night of the shooting. Klingbeil’s lawyer, Donna Domonkos made sure to clarify with her client he said this as a reference to losing his conscious, not a fit of rage.
The defense’s last witness was Ronald Scott, an independent firearms consultant who lives in Phoenix and has performed many studies on the unintentional triggering of firearms. Scott said he has seen many incidents where police officers and members of the military have unintentionally pulled the trigger, and that the mechanical resistance of a trigger is much lower when a firearm is locked and loaded.
“When you cock the gun it will reduce the force needed to pull the trigger by 50 percent and also lowers the distance it (trigger) has to travel,” Scott said.
Blonigen did not appear interested in entertaining a presumption of innocence even if an inadvertent series of events occurred.
“That was an absolutely reckless way to handle that firearm,” he said to Klinbgeil on the stand.
The defense also called two employees from a Billings car dealership and one of the Klingbeil’s long-time friends to the stand to speak on the accommodating nature Dennis carried toward his wife.
Just two days before the killing the Klingbeils met with attorney Ed Webster to finalize deed documents that were intended to transfer Dennis’s Wyoming properties to Donna. But after examining the documents two days latervon the alleged murder night, Donna found something not to her liking and became extremely upset.
“She just couldn’t let it go,” Klingbeil said.
Both prosecution and defense have announced they have called their final witnesses. Each will give their closing statement Friday morning and then the jury will then be given instructions from the court on how to properly rule the case.
After four days of trial it appears no less murky what exactly happened at the Klingbeil’s Wapiti house the night of Aug. 5, 2018. It will be up to the jury to decide whether beyond a reasonable doubt, Dennis pulled the trigger in a premeditated fashion against his wife.