Dennis Klingbeil, a Wapiti man convicted of first degree murder in November 2019, has formally appealed to have his case overturned in Wyoming Supreme Court.
After initially submitting notice he would appeal the decision in December 2019, he submitted his appellate brief on Monday, which outlines his argument for the appeal.
Klingbeil shot his wife of 43 years, Donna Klingbeil, at their home in August 2018. Both were intoxicated the night of the murder.
A jury found him guilty for this crime in August 2019. It was revealed after his sentencing that Dennis Klingbeil had been offered a plea deal for a manslaughter charge, but he turned down the offer to instead take the case to jury trial. He had argued during the trial the shooting was completely accidental, and that he “snapped” when he accidentally pulled the trigger while distressed.
Klingbeil’s appeal will hinge on evidence he is arguing should not have been admitted in the trial from a 2011 incident, and on an opinion given by a forensic pathologist from the witness stand that Dennis Klingbeil’s action was homicidal. His legal defense team, Wyoming State public defenders Diane Lozano and Kirk Morgan, are claiming the pathologist’s testimony qualifies as prosecutorial misconduct and therefore prejudicial error.
“His opinions mattered and his improper opinion, ruling the shooting a homicide, not an accident, would have had a substantial impact on the jury,” according to the appellate brief, written by Laura McLane, faculty director for the University of Wyoming Law Defender Clinic, and two student assistants.
Klingbeil had attempted suicide in the past and also on the night of the shooting.
“Even in fits of anger and disagreement, there was no evidence admitted that indicated that Mr. Klingbeil was ever verbally or physically threatening toward Mrs. Klingbeil,” the brief said. “Instead, if there were any threats that were introduced during all of these arguments, they were threats to Mr. Klingbeil harming himself.”
The pathologist and key expert witness, Dr. Thomas Bennett, stated there was enough evidence to prove Dennis Klingbeil had shot his wife from extremely close range. The defense is arguing the proximity of the shot doesn’t disprove that the event could have been an accident.
“Mr. Klingbeil does not need to demonstrate that without the May 2011 incident, Dr. Bennett’s testimony would have been overcome to any degree of certainty,” the brief said. “Instead, he must only demonstrate that there is a reasonable probability that the outcome would have been more favorable to him without the May 2011 incident.”
The May 2011 incident involved an interaction between Dennis and Donna Klingbeil in which a 911 call had been placed from the Klingbeil home after Dennis Klingbeil pulled out a gun and set it on a desk while the two were having an emotional discussion and drinking alcohol. No explicit threats were claimed to have been made at any time with the gun, nor were there any acts of violence during the event. Deputies also commented after visiting their home the couple seemed “amicable.”
“Ultimately the district court permitted the use of the May 2011 incident to demonstrate motive, intent, lack of accident or absence of mistake,” the brief said.
The defense is arguing the state falsely accused Klingbeil of using guns to solve disputes about property or money, and the state never made an effort once at trial to make a connection between this event and the shooting of Donna Klingbeil, simply using it for “prejudicial value.”
“There is zero assurance that the jury did not rely upon the May 2011 incident for improper purposes, such as considering it as indicative of Mr. Klingbeil’s character or perhaps evidence of a power dynamic where Mr. Klingbeil lords control over Mrs. Klingbeil,” the brief said.
No future date for hearings has yet been scheduled with this case. If the decision is overturned, the case will be remanded back to Park County District Court.