Suspect in Wapiti murder held without bail

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A prosecutor argued in court on Monday that authorities have strong evidence that Dennis Klingbeil murdered his wife, Donna Klingbeil, at their Wapiti home.

Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric noted that one family member has told authorities that Dennis Klingbeil said he planned to “put an end” to a long-running dispute with Donna Klingbeil over their assets on the night of Sunday, Aug. 5. Hours later, Dennis Klingbeil allegedly called another family member and reported that he’d shot Donna Klingbeil in the head.

Donna Klingbeil, 75, later died of her injuries; meanwhile, Dennis Klingbeil, 76, reportedly overdosed on various medications and spent several days recovering at West Park Hospital in Cody before being released and arrested on Thursday. Klingbeil has been charged with first-degree murder, alleging he killed Donna Klingbeil “purposely and with premeditated malice.”

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters sided with Skoric on Monday and ordered Dennis Klingbeil to be held in the Cody jail without bond pending further proceedings. State rules of criminal procedure allow judges to deny bail in first-degree murder cases, when the death penalty is a possibility and “the proof is evident or the presumption great.”

“The statement, ‘I shot my wife in the head,’ that’s pretty good proof,” Skoric argued, calling Klingbeil “an extreme danger to the community.”

He also argued that Klingbeil, who has “significant assets,” is a flight risk — particularly given the potential penalties a conviction could bring.

However, one of Klingbeil’s defense attorneys, Anna Olson of Casper, disputed the prosecution’s description of the case and of her client.

“The proof is not great. We have hearsay statements,” Olson argued. “This is a one-sided story of what happened. We don’t know what happened in that house.”

Further, “There is that presumption of innocence that we cannot forget,” Olson added.

She said holding Klingbeil in jail is “unwarranted,” saying he’s never even been accused of a crime before now.

His ties to the area date back to the early 1980s, and he currently owns and manages multiple rental properties in Cody.

“He would like to be released on bond so he can go back to work managing those apartment complexes so he doesn’t lose everything that he’s worked so hard for for the last 40 years,” Olson said, arguing for a $500,000 bond. She suggested any concerns about Klingbeil fleeing could be addressed through surrendering his passport, GPS monitoring and other conditions.

Judge Waters ultimately ruled the prosecution had enough of a case to deny bail.

Given that there was a death, that “certainly poses or posed a danger,” Waters said, and “I believe that he [Klingbeil] has the means and the wherewithal to [pack up and leave town] in a heartbeat, and that causes me a great deal of concern.”

A preliminary hearing to determine whether there’s enough evidence for the case to move toward a trial in District Court is set for Friday. Charging documents indicate the case is largely based on statements Klingbeil is alleged to have made to family members, who relayed the comments to Park County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Phil Johnson.

Donna Klingbeil’s son, Brad Lanken, said his mother told him in April that she wanted to get a divorce from Dennis Klingbeil because they couldn’t agree “on modifications to their legal trusts,” Johnson wrote in an affidavit included in court records.

“... It became apparent to [Lanken] that Dennis Klingbeil was attempting to get his trust written in such a way as it would greatly favor [Dennis Klingbeil] as opposed to dividing assets evenly between their two trusts,” Johnson wrote of Lanken’s account.

Lanken reportedly spoke with his mother around 6 p.m. on Aug. 5. Lanken said his mother sounded upset and intoxicated and said she “wanted to get out of the house because Dennis Klingbeil was talking about ending his life, questioning the reason for living,” Johnson wrote.

Lanken also spoke with Dennis Klingbeil, who reportedly said it was “too much” and he couldn’t deal with it anymore.

“Dennis stated that he was, ‘Going to put an end to this tonight,’” Johnson wrote, saying Lanken “asked him what he meant by that but Dennis would not give him an answer.”

Around 7:40 p.m., either Donna or Dennis Klingbeil called 911 and then hung up.

When a Park County dispatcher called back, Donna Klingbeil reported she and her husband were working on a trust document and drinking alcohol; according to the affidavit, she indicated they were fine and would call again if they needed law enforcement.

It was around 9 p.m. that Dennis Klingbeil reportedly called his son, Mark Klingbeil, and said he’d shot Donna Klingbeil in the head. “Mark [Klingbeil] described Dennis’ words more as a statement than anything,” Johnson wrote. According to his son’s account, Dennis Klingbeil “came across as calm and cold with no concern in his voice” and “didn’t seem like himself,” Johnson wrote.

The Park County Sheriff’s Office was called around 9:51 p.m. Donna Klingbeil was still alive when authorities arrived, but she died early Monday, Aug. 6.

Klingbeil has been on suicide watch at the jail. Olson said he’s been sleeping on a padded floor with a hole in the ground for a toilet, calling the situation “untenable.” The attorney indicated she’s currently seeking a counselor to help Klingbeil.

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