Judge to hear motion to dismiss Stenson case
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Keith Thorpe//Peninsula Daily News
Darold Stenson enters Clallam County Superior Court for a status hearing last July accompanied by court security officer Eric Morris.

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Competing motions to delay accused double-murderer Darold Stenson's July 8 trial and dismiss the charges against him will be argued next week in Clallam County Superior Court, Judge S. Brooke Taylor ruled Wednesday.

They are among the more than a half-dozen pretrial motions from Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly and Port Orchard attorney Roger Hunko, who is representing Stenson, that will be heard beginning 10 a.m. Wednesday.

If Kelly's motion to continue is granted, and Hunko's motion to dismiss the charges is denied or taken under advisement by Taylor, the hearing will continue on the other motions, Taylor said.

“I don't entertain any fantasies about being able to get through them all in a day,” Taylor said.

“If there is going to be a continuance, it's going to be brief, I'll tell you that,” he added.

Taylor ruled April 4 that the trial will be held in Kitsap County because of “substantial” publicity surrounding the 20-year-old case and, Taylor said, “recent inflammatory pronouncements by popular and credible public officials,” such as Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict.

Jury selection was expected to last two weeks if the trial was held in Clallam County but should take far less time in Kitsap, Taylor said.

Stenson, 60, served time on death row before his 1994 conviction was overturned May 10, 2012, by the state Supreme Court, which remanded the case back to Clallam County for a new trial.

He has been charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the 1993 shooting deaths of his wife, Denise, and his business partner, Frank Hoerner, at Stenson's Sequim-area exotic bird farm on Kane Lane.

In the current case, Kelly is seeking a sentence of life in prison for Stenson.

In his court filings, Hunko said authorities should have looked more closely at other suspects in the case.

Interviews pointing to other suspects were not previously disclosed until the new charges were filed, Hunko said in his motion to dismiss the charges.

“[The police] failed to follow obvious leads to other suspects and adequately failed to gather and preserve critical physical evidence,” he said.

In addition, Hunko said law enforcement authorities improperly handled key evidence, such as Stenson's blood-stained pants, which Hunko said should not be used as evidence in the new trial.

In its ruling, the state Supreme Court described those pants as essential for Stenson's conviction and said the clothing was “seriously mishandled” by authorities.

The court ruled Stenson's rights were violated because the state “wrongfully suppressed,” until 2009, photographs showing Sheriff's Detective Monty Martin wearing Stenson's bloodstained jeans.

Most other evidence against Stenson was “largely circumstantial,” the court ruled.

Stenson had claimed he acquired the stains by kneeling next to Hoerner's body.

But an expert witness for the prosecution said the stains could not have gotten on Stenson's pants in that manner.

In her court filings, Kelly said the pants were still valuable evidence.

She said Stenson's lawyers failed to explain “how any of these specific actions that he calls mishandling or tampering could possibly alter the position of dried bloodstains or produce additional stains or have any impact on spatter analysis or preclude defendant or someone of defendant's known height and weight from trying on the pants.”

In asking for a continuance, Kelly said she is the only attorney in her office working on the case and that resources available for the defense far outweigh hers.

In addition, in four of the 10 months that Stenson has been back in Clallam County, Kelly has been caring for a severely ill family member.

Kelly also has filed a motion to allow previously excluded DNA evidence.

Stenson, being held in the Clallam County jail without bail, was dressed in black-and-white striped jail garb and was silent Wednesday throughout the 30-minute hearing.

His uniform, different from the orange jumpsuit worn by other jail inmates, indicates he is being segregated from other prisoners, which was done at his request, Taylor said.

Stenson was assaulted in the jail a couple of weeks ago, Hunko said in an interview.

“Someone beat the heck out of him,” he said.

“He's still got a shiner.”

Jail Superintendent Ron Sukert said interviews and other evidence concerning the fracas were referred to the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office for a possible charge of misdemeanor assault.

As a segregated inmate, Stenson remains in his cell 23 hours a day, Sukert said.

Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: June 05. 2013 6:11PM
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