updated 10/3/2006 3:53:43 PM ET 2006-10-03T19:53:43

Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty against the registered sex offender accused of abducting two children last year and killing one of them, the U.S. attorney’s office said Tuesday.

Joseph Edward Duncan III already faces state charges related to the abduction of Shasta Groene, 8, and Dylan Groene, 9, from their family’s home east of Coeur d’Alene.

Dylan was later killed but Shasta was rescued at a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene on July 2, 2005, after seven weeks of captivity. Dylan’s remains were found at a remote campsite in Montana.

Federal prosecutors have received permission from the Department of Justice to seek capital punishment in the case, said Jean McNeil, spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Tom Moss in Boise.

“Federal charges and formal notice to seek the death penalty are expected to be filed at a later date,” McNeil said.

She declined to say exactly what federal charges Duncan would face, which she acknowledged made Tuesday’s announcement unusual.

“There has been so much publicity and so much speculation about what we would do, that we think it is appropriate to make the announcement now,” McNeil said.

Duncan also could face the death penalty if he is convicted on the three state counts of murder for allegedly using a hammer to kill the children’s mother, Brenda Groene; her fiance, Mark McKenzie; and Groene’s 13-year-old son, Slade, in May 2005. That trial is set to begin Oct. 16.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said Monday that federal prosecution would not affect the state case.

“We are prosecuting different crimes,” Douglas told The Spokesman-Review. “We are prosecuting the crimes involving three murders. In their case, they’re prosecuting the crimes that involved whatever happened in Montana.”

Shasta’s father, Steve Groene, would prefer that the state case be settled so his daughter, now 9, would not have to testify. Court documents allege that Duncan committed the slayings so he could kidnap the two younger children for sex.

Duncan’s public defender, John Adams, has said he would be open to a plea bargain if the state agreed not to seek the death penalty, but Douglas and the families of some of the murder victims have said they prefer that capital punishment remain an option.

Roger Peven, Duncan’s federal public defender, said the decision by the U.S. attorney was not a surprise. He said the action might push Douglas to seek a settlement.

Steve Groene, 49, underwent surgery for removal of his cancerous larynx Monday at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, the Coeur d’Alene Press reported. He lost his ability to speak but doctors said his long-term prognosis is good, the newspaper said.

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