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Judge admits DNA in death row case

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The man sitting on death row, once from Sequim, hopes recently approved DNA testing will help clear his name.

However, state prosecutors hope the additional information will only supplement the lengthy record of information that led to the original conviction and death sentence of Darold Stenson, 56.

Stenson was convicted in 1994 on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for shooting his wife, Denise Stenson, and his business partner, Frank Hoerner, at Stenson's bird farm.

After numerous appeals and execution stay requests, Stenson caught a break when a witness came forward in November 2008, indicating he had heard Stenson was framed.

Clallam County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Williams issued a stay on the execution, a move approved by the Washington Supreme Court.

The witness, Robert Shinn, said he had a conversation in 2000 with a man who said Stenson was not guilty and had been framed.

Stenson has maintained his innocence since first being implicated in the pair's deaths. He was scheduled for lethal injection on Dec. 3, 2008.

Separate from the execution stay, Williams also admitted new evidence into court, the DNA testing on 13 items present during the 1993 crime, such as clothing, a mug, ammunition and a firearm.

The feasibility of testing the DNA on evidence collected more than 15 years ago and a review of any DNA testing outcomes may be presented as early as March 19, when a second DNA hearing is scheduled in the Port Angeles courtroom.

A new execution date cannot be set for another two months, according to the Washington Department of Corrections.

However, since the denial of a state request to lift the execution stay was made without prejudice, the state can file another request to eliminate that stay in the next 60 days, said Dan Sytman, spokesman for the department, in December.

Stenson has seen his execution date set back several times since his conviction.

He was the first to call authorities to report the deaths of Hoerner and Denise Stenson at Dakota Farms, the Stensons' rare bird farm.

Due to Stenson's early reports, officials first thought the incident may have been a murder suicide. However, after additional investigation officials realized two murders had occurred.

Investigators' eyes began turning to Stenson, a man who once lived a posh life in Seattle.

A medical examiner's report on Hoerner stated "prior to his death, Frank Hoerner endured blunt instrument blows to the right and back side of his head."

Prosecutors contended Stenson killed the two as part of an elaborate insurance scheme to collect on his wife's life insurance, estimated at $400,000, as well as negotiate his way out of the financial debt he owed to Hoerner, about $45,000.

There have been 77 executions in Washington since 1904. Stenson's name was the second from Clallam County in recent decades to be added to the list.

In 1998, Patrick Jeffries was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1983 murder of a married couple who took him in during a stay in Port Angeles.

He was sentenced to death but was removed from the list due to jury misconduct.

There are eight men on Washington's death row.



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