POWELL — A jury convicted a Wapiti man of first-degree murder for killing his wife and a judge ordered the 77-year-old to spend the rest of his life in prison. But Dennis K. Klingbeil is hoping that the Wyoming Supreme Court will see his case differently: Klingbeil’s attorneys filed notice last month that he is appealing his sentence.
Although Klingbeil owned millions of dollars worth of properties at the time of the murder, he says his assets have since been frozen and that he can’t afford a lawyer. As a result, he’s asked for a taxpayer-funded attorney to handle his appeal.
District Court Judge Bill Simpson approved the request earlier this month.
Klingbeil shot and killed his wife, 75-year-old Donna Klingbeil, at their Wapiti home in August 2018. They had been married for 43 years.
Dennis Klingbeil contended it was an accident, but Park County prosecutors argued — and a jury agreed last summer — that the evidence showed Klingbeil killed his wife “purposely and with premeditated malice.” The killing came amid a long-running dispute over how the couple would divide their roughly $14 million estate, which includes numerous rental properties in the Cody area and in Florida.
Judge Simpson sentenced Klingbeil to a term of life in prison, without parole or commutation, at a Nov. 21 hearing. Court records indicate that Klingbeil took his first steps toward filing an appeal that same day.
Documents from Dennis Klingbeil’s previous defense team don’t give any indication as to the basis of his challenge and the attorneys, Donna Domonkos of Cheyenne and Rives White of Cody, didn’t respond to multiple inquiries from the Tribune.
At his sentencing hearing, Klingbeil said Donna Klingbeil’s death was “all my fault,” but contended that his name had been besmirched and his relationship with his late wife misinterpreted. He also expressed regret for rejecting a proposal that would have allowed him to plead guilty to a reduced count of manslaughter (punishable by up to 20 years) in exchange for sparing his family from a trial.
In a series of Dec. 31 filings, Domonkos and White said they will not be representing Klingbeil in his appeal to the Supreme Court, indicating that he can’t afford their services. The attorneys requested that Klingbeil be represented by the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office going forward.
“Mr. Klingbeil is currently incarcerated and does not have the resources to retain private counsel for the appeal,” Domonkos and White wrote, saying that Klingbeil’s assets are frozen and that his adult son is unwilling to pay for the legal challenge.
Following Donna Klingbeil’s murder in 2018, a judge in Miami-Dade County, Florida, froze the assets in the couple’s trust, generally prohibiting Dennis Klingbeil from taking money from it. However, with the agreement of the Klingbeils’ children, Dennis was allowed to spend up to $165,500 on “reasonably necessary legal and other expenses while in custody,” according to an order from Circuit Court Judge Jorge E. Cueto. That sum — which was in addition to $20,000 that Dennis Klingbeil withdrew and paid to his attorneys before the injunction — reportedly represented half of some $331,000 in cash that he’d stashed in a safe in Miami.
The September 2018 order suggested that Klingbeil might have more money coming to him, saying that Klingbeil “has an extensive if as yet unquantified interest in the assets frozen.” However, in a sworn statement that Klingbeil signed on Nov. 21 and submitted in Park County District Court, he reported no assets and no income outside of a monthly Social Security check.
As part of his sentence, Klingbeil was ordered to pay nearly $22,500: $10,275 in fines, fees and assessments, $6,024.13 in restitution to cover counseling for his wife’s son, $3,722 to cover the prosecution’s witnesses fees and travel and $2,465.72 to the Park County Sheriff’s Office for his transportation between the jail and the courtroom during August’s trial. He has not yet made any payments toward those obligations.
With the Park County Attorney’s Office short-staffed, the county government wound up paying $21,800 to veteran prosecutor Mike Blonigen of Casper to handle the case.
Assuming the appeal goes forward, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office will represent the state — that is, the prosecution — before the Wyoming Supreme Court.