Jury: Confessed Idaho killer eligible for death

Joseph Edward Duncan III, in an undated photo provided by the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department.
Joseph Edward Duncan III, in an undated photo provided by the Kootenai County Sheriff's Department.Kootenai County Sheriff's Office
/ Source: The Associated Press

A federal jury on Friday deemed Joseph Edward Duncan III eligible for the death penalty for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old Idaho boy.

The jury deliberated for two hours before issuing its unanimous ruling. When the hearing resumes next week, jurors must decide whether Duncan should be put to death.

Duncan didn't react to the verdict and opted not to have each juror individually polled to double-check their decision. The slain boy's father, Steven Groene, and other family supporters embraced after the verdict but seemed to keep their emotions in check.

Duncan, who acted as his own attorney, will have the chance next week to convince jurors to give him life in prison without the possibility of parole instead of a death sentence.

The jury's sentencing recommendation is binding on U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

Duncan, 45, kidnapped Dylan Groene and his then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, in May 2005 after murdering their older brother, their mother and her fiance in the Coeur d'Alene area. The two young children were taken deep into the Lolo National Forest, where they endured weeks of horrendous abuse at Duncan's hands.

Duncan ultimately shot the boy point-blank in the head while his sister watched. He was arrested after returning to Coeur d'Alene, where a waitress recognized Shasta as the two ate at a Denny's restaurant.

Depth of his 'heinousness'
Friday's verdict was not surprising after Duncan's closing arguments, in which he told the jurors they didn't yet "have a clue" about the depth of his "heinousness."

Duncan also told the panel that government lawyers helped him victimize the jurors by making them watch and listen to the grotesque evidence that was presented during the two-week hearing.

"I should actually thank the government for helping me get my eye for an eye by showing you the evidence that you've seen, the videos," Duncan said during his closing argument Friday.

Prosecutors showed jurors videos Duncan made in which he molested, tortured and hanged Dylan Groene until the boy was unconscious and nearly dead.

Duncan told jurors that by presenting the evidence, the government was "helping me to take away your heart and your innocence," Duncan said. "That's what they have done, and I should thank them but I won't."

Duncan said he wasn't in court because he was caught, but because Shasta Groene — the sole survivor of the kidnapping and attack — didn't judge him for his actions, prompting him to take her home.

Planned attacks
The rampage was the culmination of years of planning, he said, and he originally intended to rape and kill until he was killed.

Duncan, a convicted pedophile originally from Tacoma, Wash., has pleaded guilty to federal and state counts including murder. The federal jury is considering the death penalty on charges related to the kidnappings and Dylan's murder, but he also could face execution on state counts for the killing of the children's three family members.

In December, Duncan pleaded guilty to 10 federal counts in connection with the crimes against Dylan and Shasta. Three of those counts qualified him for the death penalty, the jury found — kidnapping resulting in the death of a child, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death and using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence resulting in death.

Duncan 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.

A witness testified for the prosecution on Thursday that Duncan had raped him at gunpoint in 1980, when the man was just 14 years old.

The Associated Press' policy generally does not identify victims of sexual assault. In Shasta and Dylan Groene's cases, however, the search for the children was so heavily publicized that their names are widely known.