By Leo Wolfson
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CODY — After 15 months of litigation and court hearings, the Dennis Klingbeil murder trial saga is finally over in Park County. Judge Bill Simpson sentenced Klingbeil to life in prison without any opportunity for parole on Thursday afternoon.
“In either event he was going to prison for the rest of his life,” Mike Blonigen, special prosecutor for the state said. “Life (sentence) is life in Wyoming even without that designation.”
In Wyoming, inmates with life imprisonment sentences can be released if the governor commutes a sentence to a minimum and maximum term. Klingbeil, 77, will not be eligible even for this opportunity.
Simpson spoke slowly and carefully with many pauses before issuing his deliverance.
“This truly is a tragedy of horrendous proportions,” he said. “It could have and should have been avoided.”
Lengthy testimony was delivered by both sides. Klingbeil and his attorney, Donna Domonkos, petitioned for a life imprisonment sentence, leaving the remote possibility for parole at some point in his lifetime.
“There’s not much difference between these sentences,” Domonkos said. “At this age, it’s about giving a man one small glimmer of hope to have left in life.”
Simpson also assessed a $10,000 fine, $250 in court fees and $6,187.72 in restitution with the sentence. This money will be paid from Klingbeil’s work in prison, as his assets have been frozen.
“I want to emphasize to you, don’t take this lightly,” Simpson said to Klingbeil. “This case is one that has impacted everyone in the courtroom.”
Restitution for $6,024.13 in counseling fees for Lanken had been requested prior to the sentencing but was rescinded because he had already been reimbursed from the Klingbeil trust.
A letter was read before the courtroom that was written by Brad Lanken, Klingbeil’s stepson.
“Certainly, he should not be allowed to enjoy freedom,” Lanken said. “He robbed her grandchildren of her golden years. I hope you show the same mercy for Dennis as he showed my mother.”
Lanken talked of the trauma that the murder of his mother, Donna Klingbeil, has caused his entire family. He also spoke to the lack of responsibility and consideration Dennis Klingbeil has shown since he shot his wife, blaming him for the event.
“If released, I fear he would attempt to harm me,” Lanken said in his letter.
It was revealed during the hearing that Klingbeil had been offered a plea deal about a month before the trial in August that could have avoided the 4 ½ days of hearings.
“It was made so (Klingbeil’s) sons and family would not be drug through trial and because of his age,” Blonigen said. “It was not because of lack of evidence.”
The deal would have included a guilty plea to manslaughter, a penalty only carrying a 20-year maximum prison sentence.
“(Manslaughter cases are) every bit as serious as any other homicide case we have,” Blonigen said. “In fact … the abuse of trust, someone you’re supposed to love, that’s something I think could be argued is an aggravating factor, not a mitigating factor.”
Klingbeil rejected the offer, forcing the case to go to a jury trial where he was found guilty of first degree murder. He said he now regrets this decision.
“He showed no remorse or consideration for our families for his actions,” Lanken wrote, “dragging his sons and myself into trial.”
Klingbeil also spoke during the sentencing, expressing sorrow and regret for what happened. He said the actions he took on Aug. 5, 2018 were completely inconsistent with the marriage and life he had shared with his wife for 43 years, who he said he still loves today.
“What happened that night was a disaster,” Klingbeil said through sobs. “It was all my fault.”
Klingbeil talked at his sentencing of a prior encounter where he was held at gunpoint by a hired hitman. In that instance he was able to talk the man down, but with his wife, the violence was not avoided.
During the trial Klingbeil had argued he considered shooting himself with a .38 caliber revolver, but accidentally shot his wife as he brought the gun down.
The prosecution disputed this claim with crime scene analysis and other testimony.
At his sentencing he changed his story slightly, saying he, “basically blacked out” around the time of the crime.
On Thursday he was once again dressed in orange jail garb, after wearing suits during his August jury trial.
“My life has been misrepresented in so many different ways,” Klingbeil said of the arguments presented against him.
Dennis shot his wife after months of financial trust disputes between the couple had become increasingly ugly. It was determined in the presentence investigation report their net worth was $14 million, and Klingbeil added they each had $500,000 in savings apiece.
“It was almost like the perfect storm,” he said.
Reflections and impact
Blonigen, a former Natrona County district attorney, came out of retirement to work the Klingbeil case. In recent weeks he accepted drug prosecution position with Natrona County.
“It’s always difficult for me because it does seem to be the same issue (domestic violence) that we face for many years,” Blonigen said. “We hope we’re getting better and yet we end up with very similar circumstances.”
Klingbeil apologized to Lanken and reflected on the happier moments he, Mark Klingbeil and Lanken had shared together.
“They used to call us the three amigos because we did everything together,” he said through tears.
In contrast there was little emotional reaction from Klingbeil’s family after the sentence was delivered, but for the first time in any hearing related to the case, Lanken cracked a smile after talking with Blonigen.
“They hate what he did, I don’t think they hate him,” Blonigen said.