In court filings today arguing various points about killer Joseph Duncan’s request to act as his own attorney in his death penalty hearing, defense attorneys made a passing reference to “his decision to decline to put on any mitigating evidence.” This decision, not yet detailed in any publicly released court documents beyond this reference, may provide a clue to what Duncan was talking about when he said his only reason for wanting to represent himself – despite having a team of top-notch attorneys appointed to defend him – was because his lawyers couldn’t “ethically represent my ideology.”
The defense team has been scrambling to put together a “mitigation” case as a major portion of Duncan’s defense against the death penalty. The sentencing hearing has two phases. First, prosecutors must prove that Duncan intentionally committed a capital crime and that at least one statutory aggravating factor, such as vulnerability of the victim, was present. If the jury then finds Duncan “eligible” for the death penalty, the proceedings move on to the “selection” phase, in which the jury decides whether to impose a death sentence. In that process, jurors will weigh non-statutory aggravating factors – including the crime’s impact on the victim and victim’s family, and Duncan’s “future dangerousness” – against any mitigating factors, such as Duncan’s chaotic and abusive childhood. But the defense doesn’t have to present mitigating evidence – and it appears Duncan’s “ideology” may prompt him not to present any.
Earlier, when he pleaded guilty to all counts on Dec. 3, 2007, Duncan told the court that he accepts responsibility for his crimes, which include murder, kidnapping and child molesting. “I will continue to accept that responsibility to the death, if necessary,” he said.