Double-murder retrial of former death row inmate begins Monday in Kitsap County
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Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News Darold Stenson sits with attorney Sherilyn Peterson during a status hearing in Clallam County Superior Court in Port Angeles. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News

By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News

Accused double-murderer Darold R. Stenson gets his second day in court beginning Monday.

The former Sequim resident — whose 1994 conviction for killing his wife, Denise, and business partner, Frank Hoerner, was overturned in 2012 — will be retried in connection with their deaths beginning with jury selection at 9 a.m. Monday in Kitsap County Superior Court in Port Orchard.

A modified change of venue was granted by Clallam County Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor because a Kitsap County jury will pass judgment but he, not a Kitsap County judge, will preside over the trial.

In his ruling, Taylor cited “substantial” publicity surrounding the 20-year-old case and “inflammatory” statements by public officials.

Stenson, 60, who once sat on the state's death row in Walla Walla, will be tried on two counts of first-degree aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of his wife and Hoerner at Stenson's Kane Lane exotic-bird farm.

The state argued he had killed his wife to collect life insurance and murdered Hoerner to avoid paying a debt and to blame Hoerner for his wife's murder.

A Sheriff's Office investigation showed Hoerner had been beaten, then shot, according to court records.

Stenson said Hoerner may have shot Denise Stenson, then shot himself.

His conviction and death-row sentence were upheld by the state Supreme Court in 1997.

But the court overturned his conviction 12 years later.

In an 8-1 decision, the court ruled that photographs, including one depicting a Clallam County sheriff's deputy wearing Stenson's bloody pants with a pocket turned inside-out, and an FBI file were “wrongly suppressed” — not provided to Stenson's defense team — until 2009, long after Stenson had been scheduled to be executed.

“Stenson, in our judgment, has met his burden of showing that there is a reasonable probability that, had the FBI files and photographs been disclosed to the defense, the result of his trial would have been different,” according to the majority opinion.

Kitsap County will provide a jury pool, a courtroom clerk, administrative support such as photocopying and office space for Taylor and Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly.

The county Clerk's Office has called 150 more jurors than usual for trials this week due to Stenson's estimated five- to six-week trial, Chief Deputy Clerk Alison Sonntag said.

“We're just hoping we don't run out of jurors by the end of the week,” she said.

“The length of the trial is as great a factor as anything because how many people can spend six weeks of their life sitting in a courtroom?”

Jurors will be paid $10 a day, which will be covered by Clallam County.

Stenson will be transported to the Kitsap County jail by Monday, where he will be incarcerated for the duration of the trial at no cost to Clallam County.

Taylor has said he hopes a jury can be selected this week and that opening arguments and testimony can begin Sept. 23.

Kitsap County Superior Court Administrator Frank Maiocco said Kitsap County will provide whatever administrative support Taylor needs to preside over the trial, including a courtroom clerk and bailiff.

Clallam County has assigned a jail officer for the trial, Sheriff Bill Benedict said Friday.

“I have other deputies who are going down as witnesses.”

Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge said no courthouse law-and-justice personnel he spoke with last week could recall the last time a person was tried for double-murder in Kitsap County.

But he said the Stenson case did bring to mind the case of Brian K. Lord, who in 1974 as a 13-year-old was convicted of killing his friend's mother and received six months in juvenile detention, then in 1987 was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to death in connection with the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Lord's conviction was overturned in 1999. He was retried, reconvicted and sentenced to life without parole in 2003.

“This brings back lots of nasty memories like that,” Hauge said.

If reconvicted, Stenson, too, would be sentenced to life without parole.

Kelly said she “feels good” about the trial.

“But it's a 20-year-old case,” she added.

“There are lots of problems inherent in that,” Kelly said, citing witnesses' memories.

Kelly expects to call between 45 and 50 witnesses, and said she expects she will take about four weeks to present her case.

Lead defense attorney Roger Hunko of Port Orchard has said he intends to call about 40 witnesses.

He did not return calls for comment Friday.

Taylor said he has yet to schedule a hearing on a motion filed by Stenson lawyer Blake Kremer to disqualify Kelly from prosecuting Stenson.

Kremer contended Kelly was not impartial and had a conflict of interest because her mother had written an unpublished book manuscript about Stenson's first trial and Kelly did not disclose it to Stenson's defense until late August.

Taylor had subpoenaed Kelly's mother for the manuscript.

Information on if the subpoena had been satisfied was unavailable Friday.

Last modified: September 14. 2013 6:14PM
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