Lawyers serving as standby counsel for a man who murdered a family to kidnap and sexually abuse two children asked to withdraw from the sentencing phase of his federal case on Wednesday, but the judge refused.
The attorneys said they could not ethically continue as standby counsel for Joseph Edward Duncan III, who is representing himself, because he apparently intends to base his defense on an irrational and incomprehensible world view.
"We are not mouthpieces, we are not gunslingers ... that do the bidding of someone whose rationale we do not share and whose view of the world" is irrational, said Judy Clarke, one of Duncan's standby counsel. "We feel that the request is beyond what we should be asked to do ... beyond what our professional ethics allow us to do."
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, however, directed that they remain on the case, saying he would not allow it to be delayed any longer.
Jury selection resumed Wednesday after a more than three-month delay following Duncan's request to represent himself. During that time he underwent a battery of psychological tests and Lodge ruled late last month that he was mentally competent to serve as his own attorney.
Duncan is facing the death penalty after pleading guilty to 10 federal charges in the kidnapping of two northern Idaho siblings, ages 8 and 9, and the murder of the older child in 2005. The 8-year-old was rescued; it is unclear whether she will testify in the sentencing phase.
Juror: 'Ethically wrong'
The children were taken from their Coeur d'Alene home in May 2005 after Duncan fatally bludgeoned their brother, their mother and her fiance. Duncan has pleaded guilty in state court to those three murders, which also could lead to a death sentence.
During jury selection, four potential jurors said seeing Duncan act as his own lawyer could affect their ability to be impartial.
"If he is able to come face to face with the little girl, that's ethically wrong," one potential juror said. "That's not right — it's like abusing her again."
Clarke said Duncan doesn't intend to present any evidence about his own traumatic childhood or mental state as she and his other standby lawyers recommend.
"We do not share his theory of the case to the extent we can understand his theory of the case," Clarke said.