New murder trial could cost Clallam $1.4 million
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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“It could cost easily over $1 million,” Kelly said.
“It will probably be the most expensive ever if it goes to trial.”
Kelly also said she intends to seek the death penalty against Stenson on two charges of aggravated murder that were filed against Stenson earlier this month.
County Administrator Jim Jones estimated that retrying Stenson, 59, for murder in the 1993 shooting deaths of Stenson's wife, Denise, and Stenson's business partner, Frank Hoerner, could cost up to $1.4 million.
“Most of that goes to the defense and their investigators,” Jones said.
Those costs don't include the $100,000 Kelly will seek today from the county commissioners to appeal, to the U.S. Supreme Court, the state Supreme Court's May 10 decision to reverse of Stenson's 1994 death-penalty conviction.
Stenson had been on death row in the state penitentiary at Walla Walla.
“If the Supremes do not accept review, then we are probably looking at a fraction of that entire amount,” Kelly said, adding the entire $100,000 is intended to pay the state Attorney General's Office to plan for and argue the case all the way through arguments before the nine justices.
Commissioners meet at 10 a.m. in the commissioners' board room at the county Courthouse, 223 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles to consider the request.
“I intend to vote in favor of it,” Commissioner Jim McEntire said Monday.
“I don't have any particular expertise on why the [state] Supreme Court ruled the way they did, but I tend to support Deb Kelly's contention that this has got some possibility of being reversed.”
The appeal would be argued by the state Attorney General's Office if the U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear the case.
Funds to appeal the case will come out of the county's general fund reserves of $9.5 million, County Administrator Jim Jones said Monday.
Sheriff Bill Benedict has already hired former retired county Detective Charles Fuscher to organize case files and track down witnesses who testified in Stenson's original trial.
Fuscher begins Aug. 1 and probably will work about up to 10 hours a week on the case, he said.
“Compared to what [Stenson's] public defender is going to cost, it's peanuts,” Benedict said.
“Most of the witnesses are still available, at least the key witnesses,” he added.
“Between the forensics as well as the sworn testimony from 18 years ago, that should be more than adequate.”
The state Supreme Court turned down Stenson's appeal in 1997.
But in its 8-1 ruling May 10 that overturned Stenson's sentence and conviction, the court said the Prosecuting Attorney's Office withheld lab notes and photographs until 2009.
One of the photographs showed then-county Sheriff's Detective Monty Martin wearing the same bloody jeans worn by Stenson the day Stenson's wife and business partner were murdered.
The right-front pocket, inside of which gunshot residue had been found, was turned out, and Martin's hands were ungloved, according to court records.
The gunshot residue and the pants were “two key pieces of evidence that directly tied the defendant to the shootings,” the court said.
“The remainder of the evidence presented by the state at trial was largely circumstantial.”
Stenson had claimed he kneeled beside the victims after they were shot.
“The defense had access to all the evidence at the time of trial,” Kelly said.
“It was not served on a silver platter to them.”
In its ruling, the state Supreme Court said that in 2009, the state “disclosed evidence that had not previously been made available to the defense team.”
Kelly said it did not constitute double jeopardy to retry Stenson on the same charges.
“If the Supreme Court said at some point that there was insufficient evidence to convict him, then he could not be retried, but it was not that kind of ruling.”
Kelly was a District Court judge in 1994 when Stenson was tried.
Stenson is being held without bail in Clallam County jail.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at email@example.com.
Last modified: July 23. 2012 6:14PM