Change of venue sought in double-murder retrial
By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Stenson, 60, is charged in Clallam County Superior Court with two counts of first-degree aggravated murder in the 1993 shooting deaths of his wife and business partner near Sequim.
His lawyers filed a motion last week to move the July 15 trial to another county — they specifically requested King County for its size — because of a “consistent barrage of negative media coverage to the small Clallam County population.”
“My client has already lost most of his life,” Seattle defense attorney Sherilyn Peterson told Clallam County Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor on Wednesday.
“He's lost his family, his property, his health, his dignity. The only thing he has left is a slim hope that he will have a fair trial this time, and that is the thing that 20 years of negative and unfair publicity has virtually guaranteed he will not have if this case remains in Clallam County.”
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly countered in her oral argument that 20 years of media coverage in a double-murder case “is not surprising.”
“What she [Peterson] believes is the most inflammatory coverage is 20 years old,” Kelly said.
“Most of the coverage has not been inflammatory. It simply does not meet that test.”
Taylor said he will consider the oral arguments and briefs submitted by Peterson and Kelly, and issue a decision soon.
Stenson was facing the death penalty until his 1994 conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court last May.
“Throughout every phase of this case, from his arrest, through trial, and through all post-conviction proceedings, the media coverage has been wide-spread and prejudicial,” Peterson wrote in a 38-page motion that cites more than 150 articles that have appeared in the Peninsula Daily News and Sequim Gazette over the past 20 years.
It also cites radio and television news stories, and a 1993 episode of “A Current Affair,” a then-nationally syndicated Fox television newsmagazine that “covered the case in a sensational manner, thrusting this small community into the national limelight,” Peterson continued.
“The negative publicity has not been the exclusive province of the media,” she wrote, referring to a sign that was displayed along U.S. Highway 101 about two years ago that reportedly said “Enough Already, Stenson needs to die.”
Peterson handled Stenson's request for a change of venue for lead defense attorney Roger Hunko of Port Orchard.
At the hearing, she outlined the applicable law and listed 11 distinguishing factors of the Stenson case that show “a reasonable likelihood of prejudice.”
“Due to the barrage of inflammatory pretrial publicity, publicity that has spanned nearly 20 years, Mr. Stenson cannot receive a fair trial in Clallam County,” Peterson concluded in her motion.
Kelly said the request for a change of venue is premature.
“If there's difficulty selecting a jury, that would be the appropriate time to make that decision,” she said.
Earlier this month, Taylor granted a defense request to postpone the trial from March 4 to the summer because of extensive discovery and difficulties in finding witnesses to testify about the events surrounding the deaths of Denise Stenson and Frank Hoerner nearly 20 years ago.
Stenson has maintained his innocence.
Kelly, who originally sought the death penalty in the retrial, announced in December that she would not seek it after consulting with the victims' families.
In other developments from Wednesday's court hearing, Taylor:
■ Moved a Feb. 8 status conference to Feb. 20.
■ Moved jury selection from July 15 to July 8, provided the case remains in Clallam County.
■ Reported that he is still considering whether to allow three defense attorneys in light of the fact that Stenson is no longer facing the death penalty.
Stenson is represented by attorneys Hunko, Peterson and Blake Kremer of University Place.
Kelly is handling the prosecution for the state.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: January 30. 2013 6:15PM