More than 15 years after the body of Lisa Marie Kimmell was pulled from the North Platte River west of Casper, authorities believe they have solved the mystery of her slaying and charged Dale Wayne Eaton with her murder.
District Attorney Kevin Meenan on Thursday filed eight charges against Eaton in connection with the 1988 rape and slaying of the blonde Montana teen. Court documents revealed that Eaton was allegedly linked to Kimmell's murder by a DNA match.
The announcement of the charges brought some satisfaction to former sheriff Dave Dovala, whose office was haunted by an inability to solve the case.
"I had hoped it would (happen). I was delighted when I found out last July about it," Dovala said, referring to the month last year when a single lead renewed investigators' hopes.
Two anglers discovered the body of 18-year-old Kimmell on April 2, 1988. Investigators said she had been sexually assaulted, hit in the head and stabbed several times before being thrown from Government Bridge off Wyoming Highway 220.
Eaton, who was recently extradited from a Colorado prison to face charges unrelated to the homicide, is now also charged with one count each of first-degree premeditated murder, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, first-degree sexual assault, and second-degree sexual assault, court documents state.
Three additional counts of first-degree felony murder were also charged. Each were allegedly committed during the course of separate felony crimes, those being sexual assault, robbery and kidnapping, Meenan said.
"In times past, we probably would've charged that as one or maybe two counts (of murder) and just alleged each of the alternative basis for it," explained Meenan. "But, in light of the recent Wyoming Supreme Court opinions, we separated them out into separate counts."
There have been a series of cases, he said, in which the court has directed that charges be separated with specificity and given to the jury separately. A number of death penalty cases have also required a distinction between the premeditated and felony murder charges, he added.
Sheila Kimmell, Lisa Marie's mother, could not be reached for comment on the action at her Denver home Thursday.
The latest court documents include autopsy findings of County Coroner James Thorpen, which describe the severity of Kimmell's injuries.
Among those findings, Thorpen concluded that the blow to Kimmell's head was severe enough to cause her to suffer skull fractures, bleeding and swelling of the brain.
Furthermore, he said, "Kimmell had suffered six separate stab wounds: Five of which were arranged in a circle in the chest of Lisa Kimmell with a sixth inflicted in the mid-upper abdomen."
Each wound was inflicted to avoid striking the rib, the report says. Thorpen concluded each stab could have been fatal because each penetrated vital organs.
No real headway had been made in bringing charges in the case until last summer, when Kimmell's black Honda CRX Si was unearthed by sheriff's officials on a property at Moneta west of Casper owned by Eaton.
Investigators began searching the property after being notified by the Wyoming State Crime Lab on July 16, 2002 that a blood sample drawn from Eaton at the Rawlins state prison in 1998 matched a sample recovered from Kimmell's body after her death that had been on file at the FBI laboratory, court documents say.
It took only days to unearth the Honda. The personalized plates were not attached, though the latest report says a portion of the plate was found near the car.
Lisa Kimmell was last seen March 25, 1988, behind the wheel of the black Honda that bore personalized Montana plates reading "LIL MISS," when she was stopped for speeding on Interstate 25 near Douglas. The teen had been traveling from Denver to Cody to see her boyfriend.
Eaton's initial Circuit Court hearing is set for Monday at 2 p.m. It wasn't known Thursday if the Kimmell family will be present for the proceedings.