A Wapiti man who shot and killed his wife last year says it was an accident — and he claims his civil rights have been violated since his arrest.
Dennis K. Klingbeil, 77, is facing a first-degree murder charge that alleges he killed 75-year-old Donna Klingbeil “purposefully and with premeditated malice.” Prosecutors allege the killing was the culmination of a long, bitter dispute over the couple’s properties, worth millions of dollars.
Dennis Klingbeil — who attempted suicide after the shooting — has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge. In a two-page letter that was made public on Monday, he says he “accidently [sic]” shot his wife on Aug. 5, 2018. His defense attorney, Donna Domonkos, previously suggested the killing could have been an accident, but the recent letter is the clearest indication of what defense Klingbeil plans to offer at trial.
Special Deputy Park County prosecuting attorney Mike Blonigen has argued in filings that Klingbeil’s past statements and actions — including alleged threats to other family members decades earlier — show a pattern of behavior.
“There is nothing sudden about what happened to Donna Klingbeil that night nor was it an accident,” Blonigen wrote in filing.
The case is set to go before a jury in August.
“I have led a good life + have never been arrested or in trouble with the law,” Klingbeil said in his letter to District Court Judge Bill Simpson, adding that he and his wife “have been together for 43 years.”
The bulk of Klingbeil’s letter objects to the way he’s been treated since awakening in a bed at West Park Hospital a few days after the killing. After coming out of a coma from an overdose of medications, Klingbeil said a Park County Sheriff’s Office investigator immediately began asking him questions — like, “Do you want to get something off your chest?” — without explaining his rights.
He also claims a mental health provider questioned him despite his requests for an attorney.
“I was not lucid,” Klingbeil wrote. “But questions continued.”
Prosecutors allege that, during the mental health evaluation, Klingbeil spoke of killing Donna Klingbeil in a “rage.” However, it’s uncertain whether those statements are admissible in court.
Judge Simpson has ruled that the information Klingbeil shared with the personnel at West Park and Yellowstone Behavioral Health generally must be kept confidential — unless the state can show that Klingbeil waived the privileged nature of those communications. A Park County Sheriff’s deputy was present for the interview and Simpson indicated that the admissibility may hinge on whether Klingbeil “expressly consented” to having the deputy there. A hearing on that and other issues in the case is set for Monday.
Klingbeil said his letter was intended to address “certain facts” related to the pending motions. In one portion, he suggests hospital staff and police were “colluding to get me to jail.”
After he was discharged from West Park Hospital and taken to the Park County Detention Center on Aug. 9, Klingbeil said he was taken to a padded room where he had to urinate in a hole.
“I felt like a non-human,” he wrote.
Klingbeil claims he spent “several days” in the padded room before being allowed to speak to a lawyer. However, statements made in court indicate that Klingbeil briefly spoke with one of his initial attorneys on the morning of Aug. 10; that would mean Klingbeil talked to a lawyer within 24 hours of being transferred from the hospital to the jail.
At the close of his letter, Klingbeil told the judge he’d be willing to take a lie detector test to confirm the truth of his account.
“Never given an attorney, never read my Moranda [sic] rights + not told my phone conversations were recorded,” Klingbeil wrote, referring to calls he placed from the jail. “This was wrong + violated my civil rights.”
His letter from the Park County Detention Center is dated March 16, though it apparently took more than a month to reach the district court, with the envelope containing an incomplete address.