updated 8/20/2008 7:39:07 PM ET 2008-08-20T23:39:07

A 9-year-old boy who was tortured and killed by a convicted pedophile in front of his younger sister might have been able to survive a shot to the abdomen had he been taken to a hospital, a doctor told a jury that will decide whether the man gets the death penalty.

As it was, the girl testified that Joseph Edward Duncan III blasted the boy in the head after accidentally shooting him in the stomach, having decided his life couldn't be saved.

The boy probably suffered excruciating pain, Dr. Sharon Cooper, a forensic pediatrician, testified.

The doctor said the description of the boy's injury — he was eviscerated, his sister Shasta said, with his "guts" hanging out — indicated it was "a very potentially salvageable injury."

Cooper also said Duncan might have had enough time to get Dylan Groene to a hospital from the remote western Montana campsite where the shooting occurred.

Cooper, former chief of pediatrics at Fort Bragg, a military base in North Carolina, performed a medical assessment of Shasta Groene after her rescue; interviewed her father, Steve Groene; and reviewed interviews of the girl by law enforcers.

Cooper's testimony in U.S. District Court followed the presentation of a videotaped interview in which Shasta Groene, 8 at the time, described how she and her brother were raped and forced to perform sex acts together by Duncan, whom she called "Jet."

Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal counts in the 2005 kidnapping of the Coeur d'Alene-area children and the murder of the boy. Duncan also faces the death penalty in a separate state case in which he pleaded guilty to murdering the siblings' family.

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

Duncan, acting as his own attorney in the sentencing phase, suggested in cross-examining Cooper that the girl was exaggerating her brother's injury.

"How much in your experience do children tend to elaborate or exaggerate and fill in details ... especially after a traumatic experience like that?" Duncan asked.

Children who exaggerate are typically much younger, between 4 and 6, and lack the vocabulary to describe what happened to them, Cooper said.

While it is The Associated Press' policy not to identify victims of sexual assault in most cases, the search for Shasta and Dylan Groene was so heavily publicized that their names are widely known.

Duncan, formerly of Tacoma, Wash., has a long string of arrests and convictions for crimes ranging from car theft to rape and molestation. He is suspected in the slayings of two half-sisters from Seattle in 1996 and is charged with killing a young boy in Riverside County, Calif., in 1997.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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