Execution date opens wounds for victim’s widow: ‘Is this it?”

SEQUIM — Denise Hoerner has been dealing with powerful emotions for the past few days.

Shock. Numbness. Anxiety. Emptiness.

Hoerner, 42, recently learned that her husband’s killer, Darold Ray “D.J.” Stenson will be executed by lethal injection on Dec. 3 by the state Department of Corrections at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

“I never thought it would happen, to tell you the truth,” Hoerner said. “For them to call and tell you it’s all over and done with, it’s shock.”

During a Thursday interview at her home near Sequim, Hoerner was both shaken by the news of the execution date and skeptical about whether or not it will happen.

“Is this it?” she wondered, amid tears.

“You never know. It’s never the last one.”

Stenson was convicted on two counts of first degree aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of Frank Hoerner, Denise’s husband, and Stenson’s wife, also named Denise, on March 25, 1993.

Denise Hoerner and Denise Stenson were close friends.

Through a series of lengthy appeals, Stenson has been on death row since he was convicted and sentenced in 1994.

But on Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco terminated a stay of execution and set the date for Dec. 3.

Hoerner supports the court’s decision.

“I feel he should be put to death for what he did,” she said.

May not attend

While she hasn’t completely made up her mind, Hoerner doesn’t think she’ll attend the execution.

In 2001, after being told that Stenson had lost his final appeal, she made plans for her and her son to view the execution.

But it’s different this time.

Her son, Michael, is living in the upper Midwest and won’t be able to attend.

“My son has been my life,” Hoerner said.

“He’s been my trooper and sidekick. Without my son there, I don’t want to go.”

Hoerner has lived with the pain of Darold Stenson’s crimes for more than 15 years.

“For years and years, when I’ve gone to bed, I can’t sleep,” she said. “I feel empty and lonely.”

Unable to understand her own feelings about the execution, she just wants it to be over.

“It’s not going to be ‘Denise Hoerner the widow,'” she said. “It’s going to be Denise Hoerner. I think that’s one gift I’ll get.”

Hoerner also expressed deep empathy for Stenson’s children.

“It was D.J. that took D.J. away as a father,” said Marilou Pierce, Hoerner’s close friend who accompanied Hoerner during a Thursday interview at Hoerner’s home near Sequim.

Strong support

Hoerner doesn’t know how she would have made it through the pain of the last 15 years without the strong support of people like Pierce and a network of her late husband’s friends.

“I pretty much feel like she does,” said Pierce, also of Sequim.

“I think after so many years, you do become numb.”

Hoerner has also relied on the unwavering support of such people as Monte Martin, the head detective on the case, and Teresa Miller, a victim crimes specialist who checks in often with Hoerner and calls on Christmas and birthdays.

Martin and Miller have made life “livable” for Hoerner, she said.

Two more loyal buddies, High Speed and Patches, are Hoerner’s long-haired miniature Dachshunds.

“When you are down, they know,” Hoerner said while Patches took a drink of her coffee and eggnog.

“They are the best medicine a lady can have.

“They’ve been more protective in the last few days.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-417-3537 or at [email protected]

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