Back in 2013, we told you about claims of an inadequate defense for Dale Eaton, whose rape and murder of Denver-based Lisa Kimmel, nicknamed "Lil Miss," was one of the most brutal and shocking crimes of its era.
Since then, Eaton's original death sentence was overturned. But rather than allowing the admitted killer to spend the rest of his life behind bars, prosecutors are choosing to seek the death penalty again — a decision appealed this week by Eaton's current legal team.
As we've reported, Sheila Kimmel's book The Murder of Lil Miss describes how Lisa, a manager at a local Arby's restaurant, left her Denver home for Billings, Montana, where she planned to visit some friends. She drove a Honda with a personalized license plate reading "LIL MISS."
But she never reached her destination, prompting a frantic search that ended in the worst conceivable way. Here's an excerpt from the book:
Eight days after her disappearance, our worst nightmare materialized. Two fisherman found Lisa's body early Saturday afternoon, April 2nd, 1988. She hadn't had a wreck. At the tender age of eighteen, Lisa had been raped repeatedly, held hostage for six days in an old school bus without electricity or running water, subjected to untold torture, hit on the head so hard that it caused a four-inch skull fracture, and stabbed six times. Her body had been dropped from the Old Government Bridge near Casper, Wyoming, into the cold North Platte River. Our beautiful daughter was gone.
Within weeks, Lisa's story was featured on the TV program Unsolved Mysteries (A&E's Cold Case Files also highlighted it), and over the months that followed, a number of clues surfaced, with arguably the strangest being a note left on her grave that October. It read:
There are'nt (sic) words to say how much you're missed
the pain never leaves
it's so hard without you
you'll always be alive in me.
Your death is my painful loss but Heaven's sweet gain.
Love always, Stringfellow Hawke
By the way, Stringfellow Hawke was a character played by actor Jan Michael Vincent on the network series Airwolf .
Years later, the handwriting on the note was matched to Eaton's — but that wasn't the key to breaking the case.
Instead, as reported by 7News, DNA found at the scene scored a hit with Eaton's in 2002.
At the time, Eaton, a welder and ex-felon, was in a Colorado prison after being caught with a firearm; he was also facing an involuntary-manslaughter beef related to the death of a fellow prisoner.
As such, he wasn't on hand when authorities searched his property, near the Wyoming community of Moneta. Honda parts found there led to a more thorough search and an even more startling find: Lisa's car had actually been buried, along with part of her "LIL MISS" license plate.
Nearly two years later, a jury found Eaton guilty of first-degree murder and multiple kidnapping and sexual assault offenses. He was sentenced to death in March 2004 — and the following month, the Kimmels were awarded $5 million in a wrongful death lawsuit.
But before long, a new legal team began arguing that Eaton's defense had been flawed.
Their efforts led to a 2012 filing in which they criticized the performance of his original attorney. Also faulted were prosecutors, for allegedly failing to reveal that an inmate who testified against Eaton — he'd allegedly told the man he'd kidnapped Kimmel at gunpoint when she stopped to use a rest-stop bathroom — had the opportunity to lessen his prison sentence by cooperating.
These efforts have led in 2013 to an extensive hearing about the Eaton crew's complaints. As part of the session, Windsor-based psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Ash suggested that Eaton suffers from bipolar II disorder, a mental illness associated with major depression and hypomania.
More back-and-forths on the case followed — and in November 2014, as the Associated Press notes, a Wyoming judge overturned Eaton's original death sentence on grounds that he'd received an inadequate defense. However, the judge gave prosecutors the option of sending Eaton to prison for life without the possibility of parole or taking the case before another jury with an eye toward capital punishment.
They opted for the latter, and in February, the judge reportedly rejected a request from Eaton's counsel that he prevent them from doing so. This week, however, they filed an appeal trying again to stop a death-penalty-trial redo.
Continue to see another Eaton mug shot, as well as two documents filed by Eaton's attorneys in January originally shared by the Caspar Star-Tribune.Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.
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