It’s now been two months since convicted multiple murderer Joseph Duncan’s death sentence hearings were put on hold to determine Duncan’s mental competence, after he sought to jettison his legal defense team and instead act as his own attorney in the proceedings. Now, there’s another delay for at least two more (and likely three) weeks. First, a local clinical psychologist was brought in to evaluate the defendant’s competency; his report was filed under seal with the court the first week of May. Then, the judge, on May 13, ordered an additional mental competency evaluation, further suspending the hearings, which had been just a week into jury selection when they halted. The pool of more than 300 potential jurors – the largest ever called in federal court in Idaho – was advised to call in yesterday after 5 p.m. for further instructions.
What they were told: Call back on July 7. The court entered an order this morning reflecting that. “Potential jurors are free to go about their business or vacations, so long as they notify the Jury Administrator if they will be out of the area for more than two weeks,” the order states. It also orders prospective jurors to notify the administrator if they’ll be out of the area for more than two weeks beginning on or after July 1, which suggests July 14 is likely the earliest date the proceedings will start up again.
It’s tough to know what’s going on in the case, because nearly everything in it – including practically all recent court filings – has been sealed by the court. But it appears that both sides continue to wrangle over issues relating to Duncan’s competency. One recent filing regards government objections to a defense motion to restrict use of the competency information and to redact portions of the second evaluation report.
For the hundreds of prospective jurors, the situation means they’re still ordered to avoid all news reports about the case, an order that’s been in effect since they first were called for jury duty in April.
Duncan, 44, is a convicted child molester from Tacoma who spent much of his adult life in Washington state prisons. He was on the run from a child molesting charge in Minnesota when he spotted two North Idaho children, Shasta and Dylan Groene, playing outside their home in May of 2005. Duncan killed the children’s older brother, mother, and her fiancée in a bloody attack at the family’s home in order to kidnap the two youngsters, whom he molested repeatedly before killing 9-year-old Dylan. Only Shasta, then 8, survived the seven-week ordeal. The current federal sentencing hearings are to allow a jury to decide if he should get the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole for his crimes against the two children. He still faces a possible death sentence on state charges for the murders at the Groene family home, and is a suspect in three other child murders in California and Washington.