A friendship born out of murder

6:38 PM, Feb 7, 2010   |    comments
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"Be honest. It's ok," says Judy Mason.

Sheila nods and then says, "I hate him. I cannot forgive him because he hasn't asked for it."

The two then smile politely at one another. There's not a hint of anger in the room. It's pretty clear they have the kind of friendship that would make many sisters envious. Strangely enough, it's also the kind of relationship born out of the most difficult of circumstances.

Twenty-two years ago Judy Mason's brother killed Sheila Kimmell's daughter.

In March 1988, Lisa Marie Kimmell was driving through Wyoming on her way from Colorado to Montana when she disappeared. A few days later, investigators found her body in a river not too far from Casper.

In 2002, investigators found Kimmell's car buried under property belonging to Dale Wayne Eaton. Eaton has since been convicted of the murder and is now the lone prisoner on Wyoming's death row.

Eaton is Judy Mason's older brother.

"It's sad, it's just so sad," says Judy. "My heart hurts because I don't understand it. I don't understand why."

There were seven kids in the Eaton family. Judy was the middle child. Dale was the second oldest. "I know he (killed Lisa). I know he did it," she says as Sheila looks on.

The two first met during an unrelated trial for Dale Eaton in 2002. Eaton was on trial for manslaughter in Denver. Sheila Kimmell showed up because she knew after that trial, Eaton was going to go to trial in Wyoming for the murder of her daughter. Judy showed up because she wanted to try to support her big brother.

At first, Sheila says, Judy never realized she was talking to the mother of Lisa Marie Kimmell. "I don't know what it was," says Judy these days. "It was like we had known each other forever and I had never felt that before. It was just awesome."

Only after the conclusion of the trial did Sheila tell Judy her last name. "I'm Sheila Kimmell, Lisa's mom," she told Judy.

"I think I apologized that day. I said, 'Oh, I'm so sorry,' and she knew it, she knew how I felt," says Judy now.

The two have been close friends ever since.

"(Judy) didn't do this, her brother did this," Sheila says adamantly. "It reaffirms for me that just because one person in a family does something awful, that it doesn't apply to that entire family."

Once a semester, you can find the two talking to students at Professor Mary West-Smith's Victim Studies class at the University of Northern Colorado.

On the day we visited, Judy was immediately asked about her family background and whether or not anyone in her family saw any hints of trouble with Dale.

"When Dale would come visit," explained Judy, "when he would come for Christmas, he'd bring his kids and we'd have an awesome, awesome Christmas. I just didn't see that part of him."

Dale would call her two or three times a month. She typically saw him two or three times a year. She never thought he was capable of being a murderer. Dale was the kind of guy who looked after his brother with cerebral palsy.

"I call (the Eaton's) the victims in the third degree," Sheila added to the conversation within the class. Lisa was the victim in the first-degree. "(My husband and I) were the victims in the second degree. The Eaton's are also victims in all of this," she said.

Sheila says she can't find any reason to hate the Eaton family. "(Dale) did this. They didn't do this."

Sometime in the next few years the state of Wyoming, barring an appeal, will put Dale Wayne Eaton to death by lethal injection. Judy says she wants to talk to her brother at least once, face to face, before that happens.

Sheila and Judy are convinced Dale Eaton likely killed other young women before he was caught for the murder of Lisa Kimmell. One potential victim, a former runner at the University of Wyoming, disappeared not too far from Eaton's Wyoming home in 1997. Amy Wroe Bechtel's body has never been found, but Sheila fears her brother might have been involved.

"I'm going to ask him. I'm going to beg him to tell me if there is anyone else," says Judy.

"It would be my hope that we could persuade Dale to tell us if there are any others out there," says Sheila Kimmell. "It's not going to change the hurt, and it's not going to take that away, but maybe it will bring a measure of peace."

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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