Reversal of inmate's death sentence shocks victim's widow

SEQUIM, Wash. Denise Hoerner, the widow of 1993 murder victim Frank Hoerner, said Thursday she was shocked the state Supreme Court has overturned the double-murder conviction of death-row inmate Darold R. Stenson, her husband's accused killer.

"I couldn't believe it," Denise Hoerner, 45, said in a telephone interview.

"I was shocked. I feel like I just relived everything. I'm not having a very good time right now."

Stenson, 59, owned an exotic-bird farm near Sequim when he was convicted in 1994 for the shooting deaths of his wife, also named Denise, and Hoerner, his business partner.

Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly said Thursday in a statement that she was "deeply disappointed" by the state Supreme Court's decision.

"It is an utter tragedy for the victims' families that they are forced to relive this," she said.

Kelly said in an interview that she will not seek review from the state Supreme Court because the decision was 8-1 but will consult with appellate attorneys to determine if she will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling.

Kelly has 30 days from the issuance of the ruling to file an appeal.

That means that the earliest Stenson, who had filed numerous appeals before Thursday's ruling, could return to Clallam County from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla would be after June 10 for a retrial on two aggravated-murder charges.

A county Superior Court status hearing would be held the day after Stenson's return to Clallam Count and an arraignment held the following week, Kelly said.

Kelly said that if Stenson returns for a retrial, she would refile the murder charges against Stenson but would ask family members of the murder victims whether she should again seek the death penalty.

"I'm going to have to sit with family members to obtain their input and discuss with them what their wishes are," Kelly added.

If Kelly seeks the death penalty, the presiding Superior Court judge would be required to appoint a special attorney qualified to try death penalty cases to represent Stenson, Kelly said.

Denise Hoerner told the Peninsula Daily News on March 25, 2010 the 17th anniversary of her husband's death that she could not handle a new trial and that Stenson's execution would allow her to move on with her life.

On Thursday, she said she wants Stenson to be tried again for the murders of her husband and Stenson's wife.

Stenson "doesn't scare me," Denise Hoerner said.

"My husband was a wonderful man," she added.

"God will make it right."

In overturning Stenson's convictions, the court cited the withholding of evidence from the defense by the county Prosecuting Attorney's Office.

Kelly was an appointed District Court judge in 1994, when Stenson was tried.

The evidence the court cited consisted of FBI lab notes and photographs of then-county Sheriff's Detective Monty Martin wearing the same bloody jeans worn by Stenson the day Stenson's wife and Frank Hoerner were murdered.

Kelly said Martin wore the pants at the request of a Prosecuting Attorney's Office expert witness who never testified at the trial.

Stenson had claimed he kneeled by the victims.

The expert witness "was having [Stenson] move in ways to see if the blood on the pants could be created by the movements that Stenson described," Kelly said.


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