Retrial of accused double-killer could lose defense team because death penalty dropped; cost to taxpayers soaring

Darold Stenson

Darold Stenson

PORT ANGELES — A judge soon will decide whether accused double-murderer Darold Stenson can retain his three-lawyer defense team now that he is no longer facing the death penalty.

Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict is urging that the judge rule against what he calls an unnecessary expense.

Stenson’s lawyers have charged county taxpayers $175,307 since they were appointed to the double-murder case last summer.

Benedict said retaining the death penalty-qualified defense panel is a waste of precious county resources.

County Administrator Jim Jones had estimated that retrying Stenson could cost up to $1.4 million before Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly decided against seeking the death penalty.

“Why are we going to spend a million dollars to convict someone when there is no doubt whatsoever that there is guilt?” said Benedict, who said he fears a big bill for Stenson’s defense eventually could lead to layoffs in his department.

Stenson, 60, was convicted in 1994 of the shooting deaths of his wife, Denise, and business partner, Frank Hoerner, at his bird farm near Sequim in March 1993.

The conviction of the longtime death row inmate was overturned by the state Supreme Count last May.

Stenson now is being represented by lead attorney Roger Hunko of Port Orchard and co-counsels Sherilyn Peterson of Seattle and Blake Kremer of University Place.

Hunko, Peterson and Kremer each earn $125 per hour “plus reasonable costs and expenses,” according to the court orders.

The money for Stenson’s defense comes out of the Clallam County general fund.

Most murder defendants are represented by a single attorney from Clallam Public Defender.

“Since they took the capital murder off the table, there’s no reason why our public defender can’t handle this,” Benedict said in a Monday interview with KONP radio.

Hunko filed a memorandum of law Jan. 11 defending the need for three attorneys.

At Stenson’s last court hearing Jan. 30, in which Peterson argued for a change of venue, Clallam County Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor said he was still considering whether to allow the three lawyers.

Taylor did not return a message seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Stenson has a status hearing set for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

In an 8-1 ruling, the state high court upheld retired Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams’ finding that evidence — an FBI file and photographs of a sheriff’s detective wearing Stenson’s bloodstained jeans — were wrongfully suppressed by the prosecution in 1994.

“We conclude, as a matter of law, that the suppression of the photographs and FBI file prejudiced Stenson,” the court concluded.

“Accordingly, we grant Stenson’s sixth PRP [personal restraint petition] and reverse his convictions and death sentence and remand for a new trial.”

Williams also determined that the file and photographs “would not have probably changed the outcome of the trial,” according to the state Supreme Court’s certificate of finality.

“Judge Williams made it very clear that he did not believe the error would have affected the outcome,” Benedict said Wednesday.

Stenson, who has maintained his innocence, was recharged last July with two counts of first-degree premeditated murder.

Kelly initially said she would seek the death penalty in Stenson’s second trial.

After consulting with the victims’ families, Kelly announced in December that she would instead seek a life sentence.

Stenson is being held without bail at the Clallam County jail.

A three-week trial is scheduled to begin with jury selection July 8.

Hunko, who co-chairs the Death Penalty Committee for the Washington Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, was appointed as Stenson’s attorney last July.

Peterson, who has represented Stenson since a 2008 constitutional challenge to the lethal-injection method of capital punishment, and Kremer were appointed as co-counsel in August.

As of Friday, Stenson’s lawyers have accumulated a combined $156,730 in attorneys fees and $18,577 for expert services, Clallam County Superior Court Administrator Lindy Clevenger said.

Clallam County budgeted $884,301 for indigent defense for 2013.

Kelly is prosecuting the Stenson case on behalf of the state.

A part-time investigator has been consuming most of his 79 hours per month by making copies of old files for the defense, Kelly has said.

The trial was postponed from March to summer because of extensive discovery and difficulties in tracking down witnesses who have moved.

Benedict said it is unlikely that the case will go to trial this summer.

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5072, or at [email protected]

More in News

RoseHips Kween Pheanamix, also known as Anami of Port Townsend, cozies up to the Goddess Bunny sculpture just before the start of the Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Skulpture Race on Sunday morning. The race got underway at noon on Water Street, then ran uphill on Monroe and Lawrence streets, heading for the beach at Fort Worden State Park, and then the “Dismal Bog” at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)
Kinetic Skulpture Race

RoseHips Kween Pheanamix, also known as Anami of Port Townsend, cozies up… Continue reading

The City of Port Townsend is looking at options for its municipal golf course and is seeking community feedback through a series of meetings with stakeholders and the public. (City of Port Townsend)
Port Townsend City Council, stakeholder group to meet on future of municipal course

Commissioned study says $1.5 million needed for upgrades

Inside the proposed design for the expansion and remodel of the Sequim Library includes shorter shelving, allowing visitors to see through the building, said Pia Westen, project lead for SHKS Architects. (Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group)
Architects present new Sequim Library design to community

Permits anticipated by January; construction possible next summer

Rocky Wisniewski of Sequim, a member of the North Olympic Shuttle Spindle Guild, demonstrates how to spin fiber on a walking wheel during Saturday’s Pacific Northwest Fiber Exposition at Vern Burton Community Center in Port Angeles. The two-day event featured a wide variety of demonstrations, exhibits, workshops and a marketplace showcasing all things fiber. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Fiber exposition

Rocky Wisniewski of Sequim, a member of the North Olympic Shuttle Spindle… Continue reading

Clallam County Fire District No. 4)  
The late Terry Wayne Barnett, who was a Joyce Fire District Commissioner and chair of the building committee, is pictured standing in front of one of the fire trucks he wanted to be housed in the planned apparatus barn in Joyce.
Joyce loses ‘irreplaceable’ community volunteer

Terry Barnett served as fire commissioner, on JEPP group and took on variety of other roles

In the Port Angeles Symphony’s season-opening Family Pops concert Saturday, Lisa Bergman narrates — and demonstrates a cat walking through the forest — in Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf,” with music director Jonathan Pasternack conducting beside her. The next concert of the season will be Chamber I: Stravinsky’s Soldier Tale on Oct. 14-15. Tickets and more information are available at http://portangelessymphony.org. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/For Peninsula Daily News)
Narrating the symphony

In the Port Angeles Symphony’s season-opening Family Pops concert Saturday, Lisa Bergman… Continue reading

Port Angeles City Council to consider religious shelters for homeless

The Port Angeles City Council will consider on Tuesday… Continue reading

Hundreds affected by Port Angeles water main break

Showers, non-potable water offered; cases of water given to residents cut off from service

A crew from the Northwest Maritime Center facilities department, Sam Trocano, Jeff Hogue, Shane Meyer and Mike Conklin, work on the removal of the floating dock on the center’s pier in preparation of winter winds and weather. In the background, work continues on the deconstruction of the entrance to the Point Hudson Marina by Orion of Tacoma. (Steve Mullensky/for Peninsula Daily News)
Floating dock removal at Northwest Maritime Center

A crew from the Northwest Maritime Center facilities department, Sam Trocano, Jeff… Continue reading

Most Read