Peninsula man serving double-murder sentence files for high court review

Darold Stenson

Darold Stenson has asked the state Supreme Court to review his 1993 double-murder case.

Stenson, 64, was convicted in November 2013 on two counts of first-degree aggravated murder for the shooting deaths of his wife and business partner at his exotic bird farm near Sequim.

He filed a motion for review with the state Supreme Court on March 24, Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols said on May 2.

Stenson was sentenced in December 2013 to two consecutive life terms for the deaths of Frank Hoerner, 33, and Denise Stenson, 29.

His 1994 death-penalty conviction had been overturned by the state Supreme Court in May 2012.

A Court of Appeals upheld Stenson’s second conviction Feb. 22.

Nichols told Clallam County commissioners May 1 that Stenson was “simply exhausting his rights.”

In response to Stenson’s appeal to the high court, commissioners last week extended a special deputy agreement with appeals attorney Jeremy Morris of the Port Orchard firm Glisson &Morris.

Morris, who filed an answer to Stenson’s petition for review April 26, will continue to represent the state in the Stenson case.

“We’ve been under contract with him for some time,” Nichols told commissioners in their work session last week.

Nichols said a contract extension would provide “continuity in representation” and allow his deputies to focus on their present caseloads. Funds for the $6,500-maximum agreement were included in the budget.

“This is a very, very large case,” Nichols said.

The Stenson case contains 1,104 documents filed in Clallam County Superior Court alone.

The state Supreme Court will decide behind closed doors and without a hearing whether to hear the Stenson case, Nichols said.

“A decision on whether to grant review usually is made within six months, but there is no more specific timetable,” Nichols said in an email on May 2.

Clallam County will reimburse Morris $2,500 for the answer to the petition for review, according to the contract.

If necessary, the county will pay Morris an additional $4,000 to prepare and file a supplemental brief and make an oral argument before the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court arguments are typically made four to eight months after a review is granted, Nichols said.

“After argument, the Supreme Court would issue a decision in due course,” said Nichols, who added that there would be “no set timetable” for a decision.

Stenson was re-convicted after a six-week trial in Kitsap County Superior Court.

Retired Clallam County Superior Court Judge S. Brooke Taylor was the presiding judge. Taylor moved the trial to Port Orchard because of publicity that the Stenson case generated in Clallam County.

At trial, former Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deborah Kelly convinced a jury that Stenson shot and killed his wife and business partner at 55 Kane Lane in the early morning hours of March 25, 1993.

Kelly argued that Stenson killed his wife for her life insurance policy and killed Hoerner because he owed Hoerner money and exotic birds that he did not have.

Stenson maintained that Hoerner shot Denise Stenson before committing suicide.

An autopsy showed that Hoerner was both shot and beaten.

In 2008, Stenson was days away from being executed on death row in Walla Walla when new evidence prompted a judge to issue a stay of execution.

In May 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled 8-1 that Stenson’s rights were violated because the state suppressed photographs that raised questions about mishandling of 1993 evidence.

One photograph showed an ungloved former Clallam County sheriff’s detective wearing Stenson’s bloodstained jeans with the right pocket turned inside-out.

Stenson is serving his sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla.