CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A federal judge has overturned the death penalty for Dale Wayne Eaton, Wyoming's lone death row inmate.

U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne on Thursday stated Wyoming has a choice of either granting a new sentencing proceeding for Eaton within 120 days in Natrona County or keeping him locked up for life without parole.

Dale Wayne Eaton
Wyoming State Penitentiary/Wyoming Department of Corrections

The 69-year-old Eaton was sentenced to death in 2004 in state court for the 1988 rape and murder of 18-year-old Lisa Marie Kimmell of Billings, Montana.

The Wyoming Supreme Court had upheld Eaton's death sentence.

Eaton's federal lawyers didn't dispute that he killed Kimmell. But they argued Eaton's state defense team had failed to present information to the jury about his tortured background to give jurors reason to consider sparing his life.

Natrona County DA Mike Blonigan says the Kimmell family has heard the news and are disappointed.

"Obviously they are not happy about this," he said, "but they knew this was a possibility, and we've discussed this rather byzantine appeals process of the death penalty with them, even going back 10 years ago, when we tried the case."

Blonigan says he hopes the US Attorney will appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. If not, he says they are prepared to organize a new sentencing hearing for Eaton.

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