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Big challenges in jury selection for Duncan

At least initially, it’s proving difficult to find jurors to sit for the death penalty proceedings for Joseph Duncan. First, six potential jurors, four men and two women, were brought in and excused right off. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said, “Counsel stipulates and the court agrees that based on your answers to some of the questions, this was not an appropriate case for you to be sitting on.” Then, 22 more prospective jurors, 11 men and 11 women, were brought in. Everyone in the courtroom stood, including Duncan, who looked straight ahead but darted his eyes sideways toward the jurors.

The judge told the prospective jurors, “Americans can directly serve their country in several ways,” through military service and by serving on juries. Serving as a juror, he said, is “an honor accorded only to United States citizens in good standing.” It requires, he said, being fair and impartial. “To serve fairly and impartially means to base any decision on evidence presented in this courtroom, and not on anything you may have read or heard outside this courtroom.”

Then, the jurors were taken out of the room, and called back in one by one. Each juror was brought to a seat in the center of the jury box, directly facing Duncan, but most turned their heads to the right and looked at the judge. Duncan, who sits in the courtroom dressed in yellow prison-issue scrubs, did the same, looking to his left.

The very first prospective juror to be questioned, a woman, told the court, “I just feel that anybody that does that kind of thing shouldn’t have a choice, and they should be put to death just like what they’ve done.” Under questioning from the judge, she said, “My feeling of it is that he should get the death penalty.” The juror was challenged by the defense, and the judge granted the challenge and excused her from service.

Of the first six prospective jurors questioned, three were dismissed for cause. One told the court, “I am strongly opinionated toward the death penalty.” Another said he has a 9-year-old son – the same age as Duncan’s victim, young Dylan Groene. Asked by the judge if he thought he could be fair in this case or not, the young father struggled with his answer, then said, “No.”

Even among the three prospective jurors who weren’t challenged for cause this morning, horror over the nature of Duncan’s crimes was clear. One said he wondered “how messed up someone would have to be to do that,” and said, “Sometime I think death is too easy. Sometimes I think it’s too easy a way out.” Another said that as a taxpayer he doesn’t like the idea of supporting a criminal for life in prison. A third said if she is shown a graphic video of Duncan abusing the little boy he murdered, she might close her eyes. U.S. Attorney Tom Moss told her, “The material that will be presented to you is ugly, it’s graphic … but it’s our job to present it to you.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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