Image: Joseph Edward Duncan III
Kootenai County Sheriff's Office
Joseph Duncan is accused of kidnapping two kids and killing their family. He later killed one of the children.
updated 10/16/2006 7:13:24 PM ET 2006-10-16T23:13:24

The man accused of kidnapping two children from their Idaho home and killing their family pleaded guilty Monday to murder and kidnapping in a deal that leaves him still eligible for the death penalty.

Joseph E. Duncan III, 43, was charged with bludgeoning two adults and a teenager to death at the home near Coeur d’Alene so he could kidnap the family’s two youngest children for sex.

Duncan pleaded guilty shortly before his trial was to begin Monday. Under his plea agreement, he is to be sentenced to three consecutive life terms without parole in an Idaho prison. But authorities said that sentencing would be postponed pending federal prosecution that could result in the death penalty.

Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said the sole survivor, young Shasta Groene, had agreed to testify against the man accused of holding her captive in the woods for seven weeks.

“This agreement is possible because of a brave little 9-year-old girl who was willing to confront Duncan face-to-face in the courtroom,” Douglas said.

Federal prosecutors have said they intend to charge Duncan with kidnapping Shasta Groene and her brother Dylan and taking them to a primitive campsite in Montana. Court documents allege he repeatedly molested the pair, then killed Dylan, whose body was found later at the campsite.

Shasta Groene was rescued after she walked into an Idaho restaurant with Duncan seven weeks after the slayings.

If the federal trial does not produce a death sentence, Duncan could be brought back for a death penalty hearing in state court, Douglas said.

Father hails ‘best possible outcome’
Steve Groene, the children’s father, is unable to speak because of recent throat cancer surgery. After the hearing, he wrote a message on a board that said: “We feel this is the best possible outcome.”

The agreement calls for Duncan to cooperate with state and federal authorities. Duncan must also provide the key to unlocking coded files in his computer that could hold additional evidence.

Duncan, a registered sex offender who has spent most of his adult life in Washington prisons, was on the run from a child molestation charge in Minnesota at the time of the slayings. He declined to make a statement Monday before the judge.

Duncan was charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the attacks on Shasta’s mother, Brenda Groene; Groene’s fiance, Mark McKenzie; and Groene’s 13-year-old son, Slade, in May 2005.

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