Stays of execution issued for former Sequim man

A Clallam County Superior Court judge and a U.S. District Court judge in Yakima both issued separate stays of execution Tuesday for former

Sequim resident Darold R.J. Stenson.

The stay in Clallam County was granted so additional DNA testing could be done after a prison inmate provided information indicating Stenson may have been framed. Clallam County Prosecutor Deborah Kelly said she intended to appeal the ruling.

The stay in Yakima was granted because last month the state revised its lethal injection procedure without previously announcing any changes or going through a rule-making process. State Attorney General Rob McKenna asked an appeals court to vacate the stay.

As the Washington State Department of Corrections continues to prepare for the scheduled Dec. 3 execution of Stenson, the date can't come soon enough for Denise Hoerner, widow of one of his two victims.

"(Stenson's execution) will be a fresh start for me," Hoerner said Friday from her Carlsborg home.

"He can no longer taunt us. He is a sick individual. Right down to the end he has worked to hurt people," she said.

Stenson, 56, was convicted of aggravated first degree murder in the March 25, 1993, shooting deaths of his wife, Denise Stenson, and their friend Frank Hoerner, Denise's husband, at the Stensons' Sequim-area exotic bird ranch.

Prosecutors said Stenson shot his wife in an effort to collect $800,000 in insurance money and then killed Hoerner to make the deaths look like a love-triangle murder-suicide.

Stenson was scheduled to die by lethal injection at 12:01 a.m. Dec. 3 in a small execution chamber at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.

It would be the state's first execution since Aug. 28, 2001, when 58-year-old James Homer Elledge was executed by lethal injection for the April 18, 1998, strangulation and stabbing of Eloise Fitzner in a Lynnwood church.

Seven other people sit on death row in Walla Walla awaiting execution.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Kentucky case in May 2008 that lethal injection results in a painless death, if administered as intended.

The 7-2 vote cleared one of the final potential obstacles to Stenson's execution.

Hoerner said she believes in capital punishment and believes it should have happened to Stenson - who was sentenced to death on Aug. 18, 1994 - a long time ago.

"Lethal injection is not cruel and unusual punishment. Cruel and unusual punishment is Frank's parents waking up every day without their son."

Despite those feelings, Hoerner said Friday she is not going to Walla Walla to witness Stenson's execution.

Her son Michael is in the Midwest taking a new direction in his life and she doesn't want to go to Walla Walla without him, Hoerner said.

"We had a family meeting last week and we came to the conclusion I should not go. It scares me. It is gruesome. A part of me says I need to go but another part says no," she said.

Quite a few news organizations have contacted her but the situation is difficult to talk about and brings up all the past memories, Hoerner said.

The closest Stenson has come to being executed prior to this was in 1998, when a judge granted a stay six weeks before the scheduled date.

He also was scheduled to be executed May 15 of this year but that was stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that was refused.

Then on Oct. 17, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted another stay and the execution was scheduled for Dec. 3.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Christine Gregoire said Friday afternoon that the governor still was being briefed and had nothing to release yet regarding a potential appeal for clemency by Stenson.

The bishops of Washington's three Catholic archdioceses - Seattle, Spokane and Yakima - sent a letter to Gregoire dated Nov. 21 asking her to commute Stenson's sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The area where 14 people will watch Stenson's execution was opened to inspection lastThursday. Reporters and photographers also saw where the lethal injection will be carried out as well as the upstairs holding cell where Stenson will await his execution.

The tour also included the gallows area to be used if the inmate chooses hanging instead of lethal injection.

Stenson was to have chosen his method of execution but since he did not, the default method is lethal injection.

Mary Powell, Sequim Gazette editor, contributed to this story.

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