WA: Stenson -After 17 years, widow awaits inmates execution
Mon Mar 29, 2010 12:31
After 17 years, widow awaits death row inmate's execution
SEQUIM -- Denise Hoerner spent the 17th anniversary of the murder of her husband and close friend last week trying to keep herself distracted.
She cleaned every inch of her tidy home near Sequim but could not keep from wondering what is going through the mind of Darold Stenson, the Sequim man convicted of fatally shooting Frank Hoerner and his own wife, Denise Stenson, on March 25, 1993.
Does he feel any remorse, she wondered. Does he care about the pain he caused? The lives ruined?
For Hoerner, 43, there are many unanswered questions that plague her. But the one that bothers her the most these days is: When will it end?
Through a series of appeals, the execution of the convicted double-murderer -- long awaited by Hoerner -- has been delayed time and time again.
He had initially appealed after sentencing on the basis that his attorneys didn't properly represent him, an argument rejected by the state Supreme Court.
Later, he sought a new sentence after the Green River killer, Gary Ridgeway, was spared the death sentence. The appeal was denied by the same court.
Most recently, Stenson, who is on death row in a state prison in Walla Walla, received two stays of execution in November 2008, about a week before he was to be put to death, over a legal challenge to the state's lethal injection policy and to allow for further DNA testing.
And last year, his legal team found a photograph showing a Clallam County sheriff's investigator wearing Stenson's blood-stained jeans in 1994.
The purpose of the photo was to help investigators decide if the blood stain could have happened through Stenson kneeling by the victims.
But his attorneys argued for two weeks this month in Clallam County Superior Court that the photo showing the investigator wearing the jeans and without gloves points to possible evidence contamination and that there should be a new trial. A decision is pending.
Wants to move on
Hoerner said that Stenson's execution would finally put the nightmare she has lived for nearly two decades behind her and allow her move on with her life.
"I would be Denise, not the widow," she said. "I have no idea who I am."
The possibility of a retrial has her on edge.
"I don't think mentally I could [handle it]," she said, sitting on her living room couch last Thursday, her eyes tearing up.
Losing her mind, Hoerner said, is her greatest fear.
While leaning forward with her hands anxiously clasped together, she wondered if she will ever see an end to it.
"Every six months something pops up," Hoerner said. "It's insane.
"I go out in public, and it's just chaos. I stay home.
"People are nice, but after so long it's just getting really old."
A Clallam County jury convicted Stenson, 57, who was facing financial troubles, of killing his wife for insurance money and murdering Frank Hoerner in an attempt to frame him for it.
The murders occurred in the early morning hours on his exotic bird farm in the Dungeness Valley while his three children slept.
Frank Hoerner, an investor in the bird farm, arrived early to settle a disagreement over the business with Stenson.
He was hit in the back of the head in the driveway, dragged into the home and shot. Denise Stenson was shot afterward in her bed.
Hoerner, a close friend of Stenson's wife, found out about the murders when she called the house, trying reach her, and a sheriff's deputy answered.
The two women had planned to go shopping together that day.
Hoerner said she does not believe that a man's statement in November 2008 made to his probation officer -- that Stenson himself was framed by people who wanted to steal his martial arts collection -- has any credibility.
The witness said he had a conversation with another man, who said he helped frame Stenson, about eight years ago while both of them were high on drugs.
The claim prompted the DNA testing, which is still under way, but so far has not revealed a "smoking gun," said Sheryl McCloud, one of Stenson's attorneys.
The martial arts collection was not taken, said Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly.
Faced him in court
On March 16, Hoerner came to the hearing in Port Angeles and faced Stenson, who was in court for thehearing, for the first time since he was sentenced.
"I wanted to see his face," she said.
"I just wanted to see him. I wanted him to know that I hated him."
She stayed for about 15 minutes until the lunch recess. Her knees buckled as she stood. She sat down trying to hide her tears.
"I thought I was prepared, but I definitely wasn't," Hoerner said.
Her boyfriend of nine years, Richard Priest, commented from the kitchen that it would be best for the victims' families for Stenson to have received life in prison rather than the death penalty.
The appeals process, he said, is too hard on them.
Hoerner agreed, to an extent. She said she would like to see the death penalty eliminated in order to give the victims' families closure sooner -- but after Stenson meets that fate.
"He needs to freaking die," she said, her anxiety turning to anger.
But Hoerner said she won't go to the execution unless Stenson can see her when it happens.
She said she doesn't want her 23-year-old son, Michael Hoerner, to go either. An execution is not something she wants her son to see, even if it's his father's murderer.
Martin 'never stopped'
Despite her own fear of a retrial, Hoerner does not blame the sheriff's investigator shown in the photograph brought into court earlier this month.
She considers that man, Monty Martin, who is now a staff sergeant with the Sheriff's Office, to be a hero for putting Stenson behind bars.
"He never stopped," Hoerner said. "He never gave up."
She recalled walking into his office during the investigation and seeing copies of Denise Stenson and Frank Hoerner driver's licenses on his desk.
He wanted them to be remembered as people, not evidence, Hoerner said.
"It was just amazing, and he meant it," she said.
Reporter Tom Callis can be reached at 360-417-3532 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
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