Image: Joseph Edward Duncan III
AP file
Convicted murderer and pedophile Joseph Edward Duncan III pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges in the 2005 kidnappings of Dylan and Shasta Groene, and the slaying of Dylan.
updated 8/14/2008 11:01:50 PM ET 2008-08-15T03:01:50

Jurors deciding whether a convicted sex offender who killed four people should be executed heard Thursday the voice of a little girl who endured weeks of torture and despair but survived the 2005 attack that decimated her family.

They heard from her father and they saw poignant letters written in captivity by the girl, then 8, and her 9-year-old brother before the boy was slain.

The testimony came on the second day of the sentencing hearing for Joseph Edward Duncan III, who faces either life in prison or death.

Duncan, a convicted pedophile from Tacoma, Wash., pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges related to the kidnapping of Shasta Groene and her brother Dylan. Three of the counts carry a potential death penalty.

Children abducted from home
The children were taken from their Coeur d'Alene home in May 2005 after Duncan fatally bludgeoned the children's mother, Brenda Groene; their 13-year-old brother, Slade; and the mother's fiance, Mark McKenzie.

Both children were sexually abused before Duncan shot and killed Dylan at a campsite in western Montana. Shasta was rescued on July 2, 2005, when a waitress spotted Duncan and the girl in a Coeur d'Alene restaurant.

Duncan earlier pleaded guilty in state court to murdering McKenzie and Slade and Brenda Groene.

Coeur d'Alene police Officer Shane Avriett, the first officer to talk to Shasta after she was rescued, testified about how he turned on his vehicle's dashboard-mounted video camera, with the camera pointed away from Shasta, and recorded her talking about her ordeal.

When he asked where Dylan was, she told him, "in heaven ... there may be some evidence down in the Lolo forest, because that's where we were."

"We've got a lot of people looking for you," Avriett told Shasta. "What made you end up here? Just hungry?"

"He was going to take me home," she replied, talking about Duncan, whom she called "Jet."

'I taught him how to love'
When Avriett asked why Duncan changed his mind, her voice broke.

"He was going to change his mind because he said I taught him how to love," she said.

It wasn't clear what was meant in the discussion about Duncan changing his mind, and lawyers in the case weren't able to elaborate. They are under a gag order imposed by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

Shasta also warned the officer: "He's killed way a lot more people that you don't even know about. He killed Dylan."

She cried as she told Avriett how Duncan shot her brother in the stomach at the campsite, then shot him again in the head and burned the body in front of her.

The children's father, Steven Groene, took the stand Thursday morning, showing pictures of his youngest children and choking up after confirming their handwriting on notes apparently written at their kidnapper's behest.

Groene said it was the first time he had seen one of the letters, which offered a false promise. "Dear Dad, I have very good news. And it is we are coming home soon! It might be a week or 2 so we will be back," the unsigned letter read.

Prosecutors avoided discussing the contents of the letters. But they're believed to be the letters found in the car Duncan was driving just before his arrest.

Letters laced with strange lies
Excerpts provided in court suggest Duncan directed the children to write them, lacing them with strange lies.

"We might see you again and we might not if we decide to go with him we will go see Eminem and get $1,000,000, and we already have $1,000,000 but we figured the $1,000,000 was fake," read one from Dylan to his father.

Others were just terribly sad: "Dear Dad, this is Dylan we are still alive we are OK and we know what happened to Mom, Mark and Slade and I'm sorry you had to loose (sic) a son and an exwife and I'm sorry we had to be taken away from you and I miss you."

Duncan, who is acting as his own attorney, questioned witnesses for the first time on Thursday. FBI Special Agent Mike Geneckow took the stand to discuss a security video taken from a gas station in Kellogg, Idaho, on July 1, 2005, the day before Shasta was rescued.

In the video, Shasta walks around the convenience store with her arms tightly folded and Duncan nearby. At one point, Geneckow pointed out, a police car drove by.

In cross-examination, Duncan asked the court to show the last frame of the video again — only to point out that a second police car had also passed them by.

Duncan's past is littered with arrests and prison time for crimes ranging from car theft to rape and molestation. He is suspected in the 1996 slayings of two half-sisters from Seattle and is charged with the 1997 killing of a young boy in Riverside County, Calif.

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