Civil jury awards $8 million in wrongful death claim

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

At long last, members of the Gary McCullough family might have some closure into the disappearance and death of Gary McCullough, who has been missing since 1999 and declared dead in 2000.

McCullough's daughters, April Chanel Chandler, of Winslow, Ariz., and Joy Rose McCullough, of Sioux Falls, S.D., filed a civil lawsuit against Sandra McCullough-Klemp, her husband, Kristopher Klemp, Sandra's daughter, Liehnie "Lena" Chapin, and Klemp's ex-wife, Jennifer Lee Brattin, for the wrongful death of Gary McCullough.

According to family testimony, McCullough, 34, had planned to divorce his then-wife, Sandra McCullough. He reportedly told his supervisors at the George's processing plant in Butterfield that he was moving out of his home and not to let his wife have his paycheck if she requested it. It was those supervisors that initially reported Gary McCullough missing.

According to case notes with the Barry County Sheriff's Office, Sandra McCullough allegedly told her then 13-year-old daughter, Liehnie "Lena" Chapin, that she had shot Gary McCullough on May 11, 1999, and made the girl help dispose of the body.

Kristopher Klemp, who was allegedly Sandra McCullough's boyfriend, moved into the McCullough home four days after Gary McCullough went missing. Klemp and Sandra McCullough were married in May of the following year after having Gary McCullough declared dead in April of 2000.

The civil case wound up Thursday, with the 12-person jury unanimously finding for the plaintiffs.

"That's rare in a civil jury," said Richard Lee Anderson, attorney for the plaintiffs. "They were all convinced there would never likely be a body presented and found clear and convincing evidence that Sandra McCullough Klemp and Kristopher Klemp had committed homicide."

Key witnesses were missing from the civil case. Lena Chapin, who was reportedly last seen by her mother in 2008, has never been found. Law enforcement officials who have been tracking her Social Security number since her disappearance, have come up empty-handed.

A second witness, Steve Turner, who was solicited by Kristopher Klemp to kill McCullough just days before his disappearance, was unable to attend the trial for health reasons.

"If the prosecuting attorney chooses to go ahead and file charges, he will at least have that testimony which we didn't have at our proceeding," Anderson said. "I would certainly hope this opens the door to a criminal case.

"This is a tragedy," Anderson continued. "It's not going to get better. If criminal charges were brought, even if the case were not won, it would be a welcome relief to the family."

Anderson said he was satisfied with the jury's decision.

"They gave us what we asked for," he said.

The first claim alleged that Sandra McCullough and Kristopher Klemp had willfully and intentionally taken the life of Gary McCullough. The jury awarded $1 million in actual damages from each defendant to the plaintiffs.

The second claim asked for punitive damages for the outrageous nature of the crime. Jurors awarded the plaintiffs $3 million from each defendant, for a total award of $8 million.

"After expenses, the proceeds will be shared by the three remaining sisters," Anderson said.

"I'm well satisfied the jury found for the girls," he continued. "As for Lena, two of the sisters are convinced she is dead. There may be charges brought there as well, or not. It's a different case."

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