‘I will be back’: Reconvicted double-murderer files another appeal
Darold R. Stenson in court Tuesday. —Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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During his brief, barely audible statement in Clallam County Superior Court, the 61-year-old former Sequim-area exotic-bird-farm operator denied killing Denise Stenson and Frank Hoerner.
The two were found shot to death at the farm’s 55 Kane Lane address at about 3:30 a.m. March 25, 1993.
After Stenson’s 1994 death-penalty conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court in May 2012, Stenson was retried this fall on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder.
He was found guilty Nov. 12, this time by a Kitsap County jury selected because of intense publicity the case generated in Clallam County.
“I was devastated by this jury’s verdict,” Stenson said in the statement to Judge S. Brooke Taylor.
“I will be back within a year or so, and I will be exonerated.”
Stenson’s lawyer, Roger Hunko of Port Orchard, said the jury got it all wrong.
“The jurors we talked to reversed the burden of proof,” Hunko said in an interview after the proceedings.
“They indicated to us that they expected us to prove he didn’t do it, which is contrary to what the law says.”
The prosecution has “to prove he did it other than us proving he didn’t,” Hunko said.
Jurors contacted by the Peninsula Daily News after the Nov. 12 verdict did not return calls for comment.
After the hearing Tuesday, Stenson immediately was transported from the Clallam County jail to the state Corrections Center at Shelton for processing and permanent placement at another Department of Corrections Center facility.
The price tag for the case has exceeded $1 million, likely making it the most expensive in county history, County Administrator Jim Jones said later.
“It would be amazing if that were not true,” he said.
Family members and those connected with a case often make statements to the court at the sentencing hearing.
But in a courtroom filled with dozens of county law and justice personnel, no family or friends said a word before Taylor meted out the sentence.
Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly, whose last day at work is today before she retires at the end of the year, described the stress endured by the two victims’ families, first over having Stenson’s conviction overturned, then having to endure a six-week trial.
“Members of both victims’ families have expressed throughout this process the continued impact and grief this has caused them,” Kelly said.
“They have all expressed how it just never ends; the grief just never ends.”
Kelly also went through other Stenson convictions dating back 40 years, including cocaine distribution, and said he used multiple aliases.
Retired county Detective Charles Fuscher, who aided Kelly in prosecuting Stenson, said Stenson’s prison writings revealed his true nature.
Stenson stared straight ahead without acknowledgment.
“His focus in life has been that of achieving as much as possible the lifestyle of the rich and famous,” Fuscher said, by telling “one lie after another.”
Once Stenson left high school, he focused on drugs, illicit sex, drug trafficking and thievery “in one form or another,” Fuscher said.
In large part, Stenson based his retrial defense on the claim that the authorities should have considered Denise Hoerner, Frank Hoerner’s wife, as a suspect.
“This poor woman suffered,” Fuscher said.
“Her life was made miserable 20 years ago, and he caused her to suffer again.
“As far as I can tell, he is a man without a conscience.”
In sentencing Stenson, Taylor reviewed the bare outlines of the crimes, noting that Stenson was the only other adult present when Stenson’s wife and friend were killed.
Stenson had claimed Frank Hoerner had shot Denise Stenson and committed suicide.
But a police investigation showed Hoerner was both shot and beaten.
Kelly had contended during the trial that Stenson killed his wife for her life insurance policy and killed Frank because he was pressing Stenson for money or birds, both of which he did not have.
Taylor noted that blood spatter on Stenson’s pants were damning and that the circumstantial evidence also irrefutably pointed to Stenson’s guilt.
“I can find nothing in the evidence that would justify any leniency in this case even if leniency were available,” Taylor said.
When they were killed, Denise Stenson was 29, and Hoerner was 33.
For Darold Stenson to murder his friend and his wife, with whom he had children, “is absolutely beyond my comprehension,” Taylor said.
Darrell Joslin, who after the proceedings Tuesday described himself as Frank Hoerner’s best friend, watched the sentencing with Julie Hoerner, Frank’s sister.
Julie Hoerner would not comment.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Joslin said.
He was not put off by Stenson appealing the guilty verdict and was confident it would stand.
“It’s just the law. You can’t fight it,” Joslin said.
“It will be done and over soon enough.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: December 10. 2013 7:12PM