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Eye On Boise

Duncan lawyers say killer mentally incompetent

Convicted killer Joseph Duncan has now been through two extensive mental competency evaluations, and his lawyers are contending he’s not competent to represent himself in his death penalty hearings. Federal prosecutors disagree, and the court hasn’t issued its ruling yet. If Duncan were ruled incompetent, the proceedings would be halted and he’d be moved to a secure mental facility until he’s again found competent to go through court proceedings to determine whether he should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Duncan already has pleaded guilty to all charges in a 10-count federal indictment for kidnapping and molesting two North Idaho children and killing one in 2005. He also has pleaded guilty in state court to killing the children’s 13-year-old brother, mother and mother’s fiancée in a brutal attack at the family’s home in order to kidnap the two youngsters.

This morning in court, attorneys for both sides wrangled over the competency issue, with Deputy U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson noting that the court already ruled that Duncan was competent, and merely ordered the evaluations to confirm that. Defense attorney Tom Monaghan countered, “We now have contesting viewpoints on that matter between the parties.”

Duncan was present, dressed in yellow scrubs with faded block letters on the back that said “Ada County Jail.” His long hair was pulled into a tight knot at the nape of his neck, and he’s now grown a full beard. Throughout the proceedings, he appeared lethargic and unresponsive, often closing his eyes and resting his chin on his hands. When the judge told him, “Good morning, Mr. Duncan,” he didn’t respond.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said he’s taken under advisement a request for a competency hearing, at which the experts who examined Duncan could be cross-examined. “The court intends to rule on that … forthwith,” he declared. You can read my full story here at

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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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