Judge allows Idaho child-killer to represent self

/ Source: The Associated Press

A man who kidnapped two Idaho children and murdered one of them in 2005 is allowed to represent himself at his death penalty hearing, a federal judge decided Monday.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling after repeatedly questioning Joseph Edward Duncan III about his wishes and asking him if he had any reservations about representing himself.

"I'm not a perfect person, and I make mistakes sometime," Duncan told the judge. "My only reservation is that I'm a human being."

A jury will decide whether Duncan is sentenced to death or will spend life in prison without parole on three of 10 federal charges. Jury selection will resume on Aug. 6, Lodge said.

In May, Lodge suspended sentencing after Duncan asked for permission to dump his team of lawyers and serve as his own attorney.

Mentally competent
Earlier this year, Duncan said he wanted to be his own lawyer because his attorneys couldn't ethically represent his "ideologies," though he gave no clue as to what those ideologies were.

Lodge ordered a series of mental health evaluations, then ruled last week that Duncan is mentally competent to take part in the sentencing phase of the case.

"Based upon your representation to the court, your education and the finding that I made last week, you do have a 6th Amendment right to represent yourself," Lodge said Monday. "You're competent to make that decision."

Duncan's defense team — Judy Clarke, Mark Larranaga and Thomas Monaghan — will remain in court as Duncan's "standby lawyers," Lodge said. They will serve as a legal resource for Duncan but will not be allowed to represent him as long as he is representing himself.

Lodge warned Duncan that he will get no special help from the bench and will be held to the same strict court rules as everyone else. He also said he would order Clarke, Larranaga and Monaghan to resume their roles as Duncan's attorneys if Duncan cannot adequately represent himself.

Girl survives
"I just want to try and represent what I believe," Duncan said. "But I want to do that within the rules or the law, and I want to try to do that without causing any problems."

Duncan, a convicted pedophile from Tacoma, Wash., pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges related to the kidnapping of Shasta Groene, then 8, and her brother Dylan, 9. 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. He could be sentenced to death in that part of the case as well.