Eye on Olympia: Proposed state Senate budgets contain money for Stenson retrial costs, Port Angeles landfill project

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — Clallam County could get assistance for costs incurred during the Darold Stenson double-murder retrial, and the city of Port Angeles could get more state money for its landfill stabilization project under proposed operating and capital supplemental budgets that were passed out of the state Senate last week.

The Senate approved its 2014 supplemental operating budget 41-8 Thursday in a largely bipartisan effort that state Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, said was a result of weeks of budget negotiations in which he has been involved since the legislative session began in January.

“I’m pretty pleased that my work rolled up into that kind of result this week,” Hargrove said Friday.

Senators also approved a $121 million supplemental capital budget 31-18 Friday, which contains about $2.5 million in state funding help for Port Angeles’ $19.6 million project to shore up a failing bluff next to the transfer station and prevent decades of buried garbage from falling into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The state Department of Ecology already has offered $3.9 million in financial aid to the city for the project.

Both the Senate 2014 supplemental budgets, which make adjustments to the state’s larger 2013-2015 operating and capital budgets, now move on to the state House of Representatives for negotiation.

The supplemental operating budget contains $96 million in spending adjustments, $38 million of which would pay for more technology-related material purchases and operating costs for K-12 schools, according to Senate budget documents.

The Senate’s proposed supplemental operating budget also contains $942,000 to help pay for Stenson murder trial costs incurred by Clallam County.

Hargrove said this amount was in Gov. Jay Inslee’s supplemental operating budget, released in December, and was not changed in the Senate’s proposal.

“That’s pretty good, simply for that fact that smaller counties with smaller budgets can’t handle the high costs of particularly expensive trials,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove — along with state Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege, both Sequim Democrats — represents the 24th Legislative district, which comprises Clallam and Jefferson counties and a portion of Grays Harbor County.

Clallam County Administrator Jim Jones said Saturday he had not yet heard that help for the county’s Stenson trial costs was in either Inslee’s or the Senate’s proposed supplemental operating budgets.

“That’s spectacular,” Jones said of the news.

County costs of prosecuting Stenson, convicted in November for the second time of two murders in Sequim, reached more than $1 million, due in large part to the six-week trial taking place in Kitsap County because of the level of publicity the case received in Clallam County.

Stenson’s 1994 death-penalty conviction for the same murders had been overturned by the state Supreme Court in May 2012.

The case was remanded back to Clallam County for a new trial and then shifted to Kitsap County where the prosecution was led by now-retired Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly.

Kelly decided against asking for the death penalty in the second trial.

Stenson, 61, was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in December after he was convicted a second time in November of killing his wife, Denise Stenson, and business partner, Frank Hoerner, at a Sequim-area exotic-bird farm in March 25, 1993.

Jones said county Superior Court Administrator Lindy Clevenger had applied after the trial last year to a state fund designed to reimburse counties burdened with extraordinarily high criminal justice costs.

Jones said he thought the county would get some relief, though he was never certain of the amount.

Jones said he’s glad of the state fund’s existence in general for help with high-cost criminal cases.

“Particularly for tiny little counties, something like that could put you out of business,” Jones said.

The state House’s proposed $200 million supplemental operating budget, released Wednesday, also aims more money toward education improvements in community mental health services, according to The Associated Press.

The proposal funds the increase in spending, in part, through the elimination of four state tax exemptions, including sales tax on bottled water, that is expected to generate $100 million.

Rep. Tharinger, speaking by phone from a House Appropriations Committee caucus session Saturday, said he expects the full house to vote on the supplemental operating budget Tuesday.

Negotiations on the opposite chamber’s budgets would then start soon afterward, Tharinger added.

State Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, D-Sequim, could not be reached for comment Friday or Saturday.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 02. 2014 7:07PM
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