Judge: 9-year-old massacre survivor can testify

In this image taken from a security camera video, Shasta Groene and her alleged abductor, Joseph Edward Duncan III, are seen inside a convenience store, on July 1, 2005, in Kellogg, Idaho, hours before she was rescued.
In this image taken from a security camera video, Shasta Groene and her alleged abductor, Joseph Edward Duncan III, are seen inside a convenience store, on July 1, 2005, in Kellogg, Idaho, hours before she was rescued. AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A girl who survived a massacre at her family’s home last year is competent to testify in the trial of Joseph Edward Duncan III, which begins next week, a judge ruled Thursday.

First District Judge Fred Gibler interviewed Shasta Groene, now 9, in private under a state rule that makes it necessary for him to decide if a child under age 10 can testify.

“The minor witness is competent to testify,” Gibler said.

Duncan, 43, is charged with killing Shasta’s mother, Brenda Groene, her fiance, Mark McKenzie; and Groene’s 13-year-old son, Slade, in May 2005. Shasta is expected to provide key testimony

Court documents allege Duncan, who spent most of his adult life in Washington prisons for sexual crimes against children, committed the slayings so he could kidnap Shasta and her other brother, Dylan, 9, for sex.

** FILE ** This undated file image provided by the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department shows Joseph Edward Duncan III. Lawyers for Duncan said Wednesday Oct. 11, 2006, Duncan will admit to the murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene in Montana and to three slayings in Idaho if prosecutors will drop the death penalty option. (AP Photo/Kootenai County Sheriff's Office, File) ** NO SALES ** KOOTENAI COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

He is suspected of taking Dylan and Shasta to a campsite in Montana, and Dylan was killed at some point. Shasta was rescued at a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene after seven weeks of captivity.

Steve Groene, father of the abducted children, in recent months had asked for a plea bargain so Shasta would not have to face Duncan in court.

But on Wednesday, lawyers for Duncan said a prosecutor rejected the defendant’s offer to confess in exchange for being spared the death penalty.

Prosecutor Bill Douglas of Kootenai County, Idaho, had consistently rejected a plea bargain for Duncan. A spokeswoman in his office said he did not want to comment on the defense lawyer’s statement Wednesday because jury selection in the case begins Monday.