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Death penalty hearing starts for Dale Eaton in Cheyenne

Aug 1, 2013 - By Mead Gruver, The Associated Press

An attorney for the former Riverton man who is Wyoming's only death row inmate called his client's former trial attorney to testify on the first day of a hearing on the constitutionality of Dale Wayne Eaton's death sentence.

Eaton, 68, was convicted in 2004 of the 1988 rape and murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell, of Billings, Mont. His current attorneys don't dispute he committed the crime.

Instead, they question whether now-retired public defender Wyatt Skaggs allocated enough resources to the sentencing phase of Eaton's case a decade ago. They say the defense team failed to find out from Eaton's relatives important details about his background.

Those details included evidence of serious mental illness that ran in Eaton's family.

"That is huge. That is very significant that evidence went undiscovered by the trial team," Eaton attorney Sean O'Brien said in the hearing before U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson on Tuesday.

Eaton lived with his family in Riverton as a child and attended Riverton High School in the early 1960s.

O'Brien described the public defender's defense of Eaton as "fast and cheap."

Wyoming law requires all 12 jurors to unanimously support death for the sentence to be imposed instead of life in prison. O'Brien said Eaton's trial attorneys failed to produce evidence and witnesses who could have persuaded at least one juror not to impose the death penalty.

An attorney with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office defended Skaggs. Deputy Attorney General Dave Delicath said Skaggs handled hundreds of cases over his career without ever being found ineffective.

In the Eaton case, Delicath said, the question isn't whether Eaton's lawyers represented him perfectly but whether they made reasonable choices and met the standard for providing a reasonably solid defense.

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