By Rob Ollikainen
Peninsula Daily News
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Defense attorney Roger Hunko of Port Orchard filed a motion to continue the trial, based on a voluminous discovery and difficulties in tracking down witnesses in a nearly two-decade-old case.
Stenson, 60, who was being held without bail in the Clallam County jail Friday, is charged with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder for the deaths of Denise Stenson and Frank Hoerner at Stenson’s bird farm near Sequim.
Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly did not object to the continuance. She recommended a September trial in the interest of witness availability after summer vacations.
Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor granted the continuance but said he was “reluctant” to do so.
He noted that attorneys for both sides agreed to the March trial date last August.
“There is a public interest here,” Taylor said.
“There is an alleged victim interest as well. And part of my responsibility is to get this resolved as efficiently and expeditiously as we can, but always assuring that Mr. Stenson has effective assistance of counsel,” he continued.
“And to be effective, counsel has to be fully prepared.”
Kelly said the state has been providing discovery to the defense “as rapidly as we can.”
“Frankly, in terms of trial preparation, the state is somewhat behind the eight-ball because I have a part-time investigator assigned to me by the Sheriff’s Department,” she said.
The investigator, a retired law enforcement officer, is working fewer than 80 hours per month to avoid collecting county benefits.
“His time has been consumed with scanning documents at the defense request and reviewing discovery,” Kelly said.
“Defense counsel and I have tried to minimize impact on other county departments by viewing evidence together. We have done that.”
She said the defense has requested thousands of pages of documents that were not used in Stenson’s 1994 conviction.
“Over the past 20 years of litigation, all the various defense teams that have worked on Mr. Stenson’s case have given us numerous documents themselves,” Hunko said.
“We’ve had, I think, over 100,000 pages that we still have not been able to see what is relevant and what isn’t relevant. We are working as hard as we can.”
Hunko was appointed to lead Stenson’s three-lawyer defense team last July. He said the defense has reviewed the 1993 discovery “except for one drawer and a filing cabinet and a box full of documents that evidently no other attorneys have ever bothered to go look through.”
At least 100,000 pages
Kelly said she did not dispute that there are 100,000 pages of reports to review.
“It may be more,” she said.
Kelly added that pretrial motions still need to be filed.
“There’s nothing about this case intrinsically, I think, that is complex,” she said.
“It’s the fact of the age and difficulty with witnesses that make it difficult.”
Stenson was facing the death penalty when Hunko was appointed to his defense. His 1994 conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court last May.
Kelly, who originally said she would seek the death penalty in the retrial, announced Dec. 19 that she would not seek the death penalty after consulting with the victims’ families.
Taylor set a Feb. 8 status hearing to make sure the case is on course.
Three defense attorneys
Two days after Kelly took the death penalty off the table, retired Superior Court Judge Ken Williams sent a letter to the defense questioning the need for three attorneys.
Hunko on Friday presented a 12-page memorandum of law defending the need for all three lawyers.
“In this case, because of the number of pages and documents and everything else that goes on, we feel that all three attorneys need to remain to meet the deadline of July 15,” he said.
“It will take all three of us working very diligently to get that done.”
Taylor said the case “changed dramatically” when Kelly decided not to seek the death penalty.
He noted that a single lawyer from Clallam Public Defender is representing other defendants who are charged with first-degree premeditated murder.
“I understand this case is different because of its age and the amount of material that’s been developed, but we have already seen over 1,000 hours of attorney time devoted to the defense side in this case,” Taylor said.
“I’m wondering if that can be justified in an ongoing manner.”
Taylor said he would review Hunko’s memorandum and issue a ruling “as soon as possible.”
Kelly also announced Friday that the state Department of Corrections has terminated the agreement it signed with the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office to house Stenson at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.