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Stenson execution awaits 2 challenges

Additional DNA testing of 10 pieces of evidence from the murder trial of former Sequim resident Darold R.J. Stenson could occur as soon as June 8 with results available sometime afterward, said Clallam County Prosecutor Deb Kelly.

Stenson's defense attorneys hope the additional testing will show that a third party was present when Denise Stenson and Frank Hoerner were shot and killed on March 25, 1993, at the Stensons' Sequim-area exotic bird ranch, she said.

But if the results lead Clallam County Superior Court Judge Ken Williams to lift his stay of Stenson's execution, Stenson also is awaiting the outcome of another legal challenge that could delay or halt his death by lethal injection.

A lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court challenges the constitutionality of the state's death penalty procedures, claiming they cause improper pain and suffering.

The case is a combined lawsuit on behalf of Stenson; Cal Coburn Brown, convicted of torturing and killing a Burien woman; and Jonathan Gentry, convicted of killing a 12-year-old girl in Kitsap County in 1988.

That bench trial begins Thursday and is expected to last four days, with Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Wickam's decision coming sometime after.

Janelle Guthrie, communications director for the state Attorney General, said Wickam could rule as soon as the trial concludes or take a few days.

Then Stenson or the other two defendants can appeal that decision to the Washington State Supreme Court, she said.

If Stenson's side wins, then the state would have the same opportunity to appeal, but attorneys first would have to study Wickham's ruling and weigh the best arguments, Guthrie said.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in a Kentucky case in May 2008 that lethal injection results in a painless death if administered as intended.

The state's attorneys are arguing that this state's procedures are substantially similar to Kentucky's.



Reach Brian Gawley at bgawley@sequimgazette.com.

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