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Eye On Boise

Archive for November 2008

A tempered Risch joins U.S. Senate

The headline: “Risch: ‘I have no future political plans’” The date: Nov. 10, 1988, shortly after longtime state Sen. Jim Risch, the president pro-tem of the Senate, was booted out of office by Ada County voters. The byline: By Betsy Z. Russell, The Idaho Statesman.

That’s right – as a young reporter, I covered what Risch then billed as his “last press conference,” suggesting he was done with politics and would withdraw into private life. “I have no future political plans of any kind,” Risch said then. Four years later, he tried for a comeback, but lost in the GOP primary, a drubbing that prompted him to again declare his multi-decade political career over. But two years after that, Gov. Phil Batt appointed Risch back into the state Senate, and he began rising again into the leadership ranks. And now he’s lieutenant governor, a former governor, and Idaho’s newest U.S. senator-elect.

Back in 1988, I reported that Risch “looked shaken, but nevertheless joked with reporters in his usual style.” When asked if he’d seek national office in the future, he said, “I don’t like anything about Washington, D.C. – particularly living there.” But now, that’s where he’s headed. The longtime Idaho politician says he’s “mellowed” over the years. After all his years in the state Senate, Risch said, “I enjoyed that legislative process, I really did. This is the same thing at a higher level. It’s got a lot more moving parts. That’s still what intrigues me.” You can read my profile of Risch here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Odd, confessional affidavit from Duncan

It reads in some ways like a confession before going to his execution, but it offers no insight into the killer’s crimes. Instead, the eight-page affidavit that condemned killer Joseph Duncan filed in federal court late today deals mostly with the killer’s religious views of his crimes and his impending execution, including a religious awakening that he claims caused him to spare his only surviving child victim. You can read the affidavit here and click below for more. Or if you’d rather not, don’t. Certainly, Joseph Duncan is not Thanksgiving fare. Yet one piece of his story is: The fact that he’ll never again be free to hurt another child.

Vegas man sentenced for ripping off PERSI

A 67-year-old Las Vegas man has been sentenced to three months in prison, three months home detention and five years of probation for collecting his mother’s PERSI retirement benefits for nearly three years after she’d died. Vernon Geier, who pleaded guilty to interstate theft from the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, a federal crime, must pay back all the $65,000 in stolen funds; part of it already has been recovered. PERSI was electronically depositing the money into Geier’s mother’s bank account in Las Vegas; when she died in January of 2002, he never notified them, and the money kept coming until November 2004 when PERSI learned from other sources of her death. U.S. Attorney Tom Moss commended the FBI for going after the case, saying, “In these days it is vitally important for the public to be assured that fraud committed against retirement and investment accounts is going to be aggressively pursued through the criminal justice system.”

Judge dismisses Duncan appeal

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, after quizzing condemned killer Joseph Duncan repeatedly about whether he wants to appeal his death sentence and about whether he gave his standby attorneys permission to file an appeal for him, declared himself satisfied that Duncan, at this point, doesn’t want to appeal, and he dismissed the appeal filed for him by the attorneys. “The government’s motion to strike your appeal is proper, and the court’s going to grant that,” Lodge told defense attorney Judy Clarke.

Clarke objected, saying the government had “manipulated” Duncan on his appeal decision, in part by providing him with milkshakes and other enticements during jailhouse visits. She cited “what we perceive to be a sustained and strategic effort to manipulate Mr. Duncan with regard to his position on appealing. … Part of this sustained effort by the FBI involved them taking milkshakes, coffee, gifts, family photos to Mr. Duncan,” and even, she said, speculating about who would play his mother in a movie about his case.

U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said prosecutors didn’t know anything about milkshakes and weren’t involved with the FBI’s jailhouse interviews with Duncan after his sentencing, which court documents said involved additional investigative questions from the FBI about Duncan’s 2005 crimes.

Asked directly by the judge whether he gave his permission for the attorneys to file the notice of appeal, Duncan said no. “My choice is not to appeal,” he told the court. He also said, “I do not want to get involved in the rationalization process of killing, again. … My position is the system has a choice to make. I’ve made my choices, and now you have to make yours. I want to allow and accept that choice, but I don’t want to participate in it.”

The judge noted that Duncan still has until Nov. 28 to file an appeal of his death sentence, and he’s free to change his mind until that point. Lodge told Duncan, “The right to appeal is possessed by you and you alone.”

Lawyers: Boise court can’t hear Duncan issue

Standby defense attorneys for condemned killer Joseph Duncan say the U.S. District Court in Boise has no business holding a hearing on Monday on whether Duncan wants to appeal his death sentence or not, because jurisdiction over the case now falls with the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. “This court has no jurisdiction to make the intended inquiry or to strike the notice of appeal as requested by the government,” the attorneys wrote in court documents filed Friday.

They also said they’ve filed a motion to the Court of Appeals asking that experienced appellate attorneys be appointed for Duncan, in part because the existing standby lawyers could be potential witnesses on the issue of whether Duncan intended to appeal or not, and on “his mental illness.”

The 45-year-old admitted killing four members of a North Idaho family and kidnapping and sexually assaulting the family’s two youngest children. Duncan was sentenced to death three times over for the murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene. He’s also received nine life terms for the crimes. The standby attorneys filed a notice of appeal this week, but Duncan then sent the court a letter saying he didn’t want to appeal, and federal prosecutors moved to dismiss the appeal, saying the decision to appeal is up to Duncan, not his standby attorneys. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge set a hearing for Monday in Boise to sort it all out.

Lodge sets hearing on Duncan appeal

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has issued an order setting a hearing for Monday morning on killer Joseph Duncan’s appeal of his death sentence, to determine whether Duncan is actually appealing or not.

Though his standby attorneys filed a notice of appeal on Monday, federal prosecutors objected and said Duncan didn’t want to appeal, and only he can make that call. Duncan himself then sent a letter to the court saying an appeal was “contrary to my wishes.”

Lodge said he was scheduling the hearing “in order to preserve Mr. Duncan’s right to appeal, should he desire to exercise it.” The hearing will determine whether or not Duncan is knowingly and voluntarily choosing to act as his own lawyer, as he did during his federal capital sentencing trial; whether or not he gave permission for his lawyers to file an appeal; and whether or not he’s waiving his right to appeal.

Duncan has been sentenced to death three times over for the murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene in 2005, which came as part of Duncan’s murderous attack against the Groene family that left four people dead. Only 8-year-old Shasta Groene survived.

Duncan letter: ‘It is contrary to my wishes’

Killer Joseph Duncan has filed a letter with the federal District Court in Boise addressed to Judge Edward Lodge, regarding the notice of appeal filed for him Monday by his standby attorneys. “Dear Sir,” Duncan wrote. “This is to inform the court that if any appeal is initiated on my behalf it is done contrary to my wishes. Thank you, Joseph E. Duncan III.” You can click here to see the signed letter.

Duncan: ‘I didn’t want to appeal’

Federal prosecutors are trying to strike the notice of appeal filed by stand-by attorneys for admitted multiple murderer Joseph Duncan, saying Duncan never wanted to appeal his death sentence and the attorneys acted without his permission. “The decision to appeal is solely that of the defendant and cannot be made for him by counsel,” U.S. Attorney Tom Moss argued in a motion filed today.

Prosecutors said two FBI agents have met with Duncan five times since his death sentence was handed down on Aug. 27, and he told them repeatedly that he didn’t want to appeal his death sentence. “To the contrary, the defendant informed Special Agent Mike Gneckow on November 13, 2008 that he does not intend to appeal, that his stand-by counsel had tried to pressure him into signing permission to appeal and that he believed that his stand-by counsel would try to file an appeal without his permission,” Moss wrote in court documents.

In a recorded meeting with Gneckow at the Ada County Jail on Nov. 13, Duncan and Gneckow were talking at 5:10 p.m. when an envelope was slid under the door to Duncan’s cell, according to an affidavit from Gneckow. It was addressed to “Judge Lodge,” but a sticker on it showed it’d been returned due to an incorrect address. Duncan then said, “Wow, it didn’t get delivered. Hmmm, interesting. That was my … letter to the judge telling him that my attorneys were planning to appeal without my permission. Which, uh. Apparently it didn’t get delivered. I must’ve had the wrong address or something.”

Ten minutes later, Duncan told Gneckow, “I was trying to tell the judge that I didn’t want to appeal, but my attorneys told me they were going to appeal anyway.” You can read my full story here at

‘A very tough environment’

The news from the state Endowment Fund Investment Board, which reported to the state Land Board today about the endowment’s investment earnings, was anything but sunny. The fund lost 13.8 percent in October, and as of Oct. 31, had lost 21.9 percent of its value for the fiscal year to date. “The results in November have not been good either,” investments manager Larry Johnson told the Land Board. “We’ve lost about 7.5 percent through yesterday, for the first part of November.” Yet, he said, “All of our investment managers are performing as we would expect in this type of environment – it’s a very tough environment.”

Revenues from state endowment lands, which also, like the fund, benefit public schools and other state institutions, have been “running about equal or better” so far this fiscal year, Johnson said.

In fiscal year 2008, total balances in the state’s endowment fund increased $12 million, or 1 percent, to $1.125 billion. That was before the losses in the current fiscal year, which started July 1. Distributions to beneficiaries of the fund, including public schools, rose 7.7 percent from the previous year, to $39 million. The total investment loss, before fees, was 2.1 percent for the fiscal year, compared to an average gain of 10.2 percent over the past five years. Earnings from state lands for the fiscal year were $70 million, a 1.5 percent drop from the previous record year but still strong.

Expert: Idaho nukes more than a decade away

Despite at least two proposals in the last couple of years for new commercial nuclear power plants in Idaho, don’t expect to see one in the next decade, a nuclear industry expert told a Boise forum today. If you look out 15 years, it “might be possible,” said Ralph Bennett, director of international and regional partnerships for the Idaho National Laboratory.

One nuke plant proposal for the Payette area was dropped early this year after developers concluded it wasn’t economically feasible. Another proposal, for a plant along the Snake River in Elmore County, has stirred up lots of controversy but made little progress; developer Don Gillispie first proposed a site in Owyhee County, then moved the project.

Bennett told the Idaho Environmental Forum today that nuclear power plants take “a lot of lead time.” There are currently more than 20 proposed across the country, nearly all of them in the southeastern United States. A handful may win final approval there and begin construction in the next few years. If those are successful, Bennett said, “the potential may arise for development in Idaho.”

But, he said, “Public acceptance in Idaho will be very dependent upon addressing water use.” There are three types of nuclear plants when it comes to water use, he said, with the heaviest water-using type suitable only for coastal areas with plentiful water. The least water-dependent type, which uses “dry cooling,” suffers in warm climates. “There actually is a nuclear plant that uses exclusively dry cooling,” Bennett said. “It’s in Siberia.” The third type, which uses 10 times as much water as the dry cooling method, makes use of evaporative cooling towers. One plant back east is experimenting with a design that uses a hybrid of dry and wet cooling, he said, which could be “interesting to watch.”

Another hurdle for a nuclear plant in Idaho is the state’s already relatively low electricity prices, Bennett said, compared to the high construction costs for a nuclear plant. That wouldn’t foreclose a plant from being built, as any Idaho plant likely would be a “merchant” plant that sells the power it generates to other states. But that also brings the need to satisfy neighbors that they won’t be unduly impacted by a plant that doesn’t actually serve them. This year’s BSU Public Policy Survey found 70 percent of Idahoans would oppose a nuclear plant in their county that provided electricity for other states, but if the plant were to serve Idahoans’ energy needs, the numbers shifted to 43 percent opposed and 45 percent in favor.

Pols share credit across party lines

This must be the new spirit of bipartisanship and unity that we’ve been hearing about nationally since the election: A joint news release that went out Friday afternoon was headed, “Crapo, Simpson, Bieter help retain rail jobs.” The occasion: A federal waiver was denied for the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to purchase 28 passenger rail locomotives from a Spanish firm rather than from the only qualifying domestic bidder, MotivePower Inc. of Boise. GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and GOP Congressman Mike Simpson joined with Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, a former Democratic legislator, to push the Federal Transit Authority to reject the request for a waiver from the “Buy American Act” for the federally funded purchase. If the Boise firm lost that business to the foreign company, hundreds of Idaho jobs could’ve been at risk.

In the joint press release, Bieter said, “I’m pleased that the FTA saw the wisdom of allowing U.S. companies to compete fairly. My hat is off to Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson for all their hard work to keep these jobs in Idaho.” The FTA’s deputy administrator informed the Massachusetts transit authority that it hadn’t “established sufficient grounds for a public interest waiver,” as it had neither shown that a waiver benefiting the foreign firm would introduce “significant new technology” or that it would “benefit the riding public.”

Integrity Index: Washington 4th, Idaho 44th

A new national survey ranks Washington fourth in the nation for governmental integrity, openness and accountability – and Idaho 44th. The survey, conducted by the Chicago-based Better Government Association, compared open records laws, open meeting laws, whistleblower laws, campaign finance requirements and conflict-of-interest laws, to create a government “integrity index.”

Idaho scored particularly poorly for its open meeting and conflict of interest laws. As one of just four states with no requirement for state legislators to disclose their personal finances, Idaho tied for last place with a zero score in the conflict-of-interest category, while Washington was ranked first in the nation. Idaho ranked 44th for its open meeting law. Idaho state Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said, “I think we need to stop and do a little introspective, and ask ourselves what’s going on.” Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he’s looking at improvements to Idaho’s open meeting law. You can read my full story here at, and here’s a link to the full survey.

‘More than one term’

I asked new Congressman-elect Walt Minnick how long he’d like to serve in Congress if it were entirely under his control. Here’s his response:

“I, in all honesty, cannot answer that … not until I get there, find out the extent to which I’m effective and think I can accomplish some useful things for the state. … And there are tradeoffs between family and spending time in the out-of-doors, which is why I moved to Idaho, and spending most of my time in Washington, so I have to weigh those personal considerations as well as my own effectiveness. So I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do anticipate it being more than one term.”

State agencies asked for holdback updates

In a memo sent to all state agencies today, there’s clear warning that an additional 1.5 percent of the state budget that’s being held in reserve after September’s 1 percent holdback may well be on the chopping block very soon. “I am asking each of you to review the 1.5% holdback plan you submitted in September and to notify DFM of any modifications you believe to be necessary no later than noon on Friday, November 14,” state Division of Financial Management Administrator Wayne Hammon wrote to all state agency heads. The September holdback trimmed $27.3 million out of the state budget mid-year. The additional 1.5 percent adds up to another $40.8 million.

Fees waived for vets tomorrow

All recreation-related fees will be waived for veterans, military personnel and their families at federal recreation facilities on public lands tomorrow in honor of Veterans Day. That includes lands under the management of the Forest Service, the BLM, the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Reclamation. “We want to thank the men and women who have served or are serving our country through military service,” said BLM Director Jim Caswell, a Vietnam veteran and former Idaho state official. “This is a small, but special way in which we can express our gratitude and our
appreciation to them.” Congress passed a law in 2004 allowing for the fee waivers.

Expert: It was ‘a referendum on Sali’

BSU political scientist Gary Moncrief, who studies elections, had this to say when asked why GOP Congressman Bill Sali lost in Tuesday’s election: “I think it’s largely a referendum on Sali. You know that district – there’s no way a Republican should lose that district. If you look at the county returns, he was running behind Risch and McCain by anywhere between 5 and 15 percent in every county. There’s a roll-off between McCain and Risch, down to Sali, in every county that I looked at, and I looked at 10 or 15 of them. It says that this election was about Sali, rather than about Minnick.” He added, “It was never a fair fight – Sali had to run against two people, himself and Walt Minnick.” For more assessment of the race, see my full story here at

Crapo issues welcome to Risch and Minnick

Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo sent out the following statement:

“President-elect Obama has brought a lot of energy into the political process, and his election is historic,” Crapo said. “As we face the significant challenges in our financial markets and economic outlook, I look forward to working with him and the new Congress. Idaho’s congressional delegation has changed as well, and I welcome Jim Risch and Walt Minnick to Congress. Senator-elect Risch and I have a long association that dates back to the Idaho State Senate, and we will work well together in representing Idaho in the U.S. Senate. I have also spoken privately with Congressman Sali, offered my gratitude for his service to Idaho and our continued friendship. And earlier today, I visited with Congressman-elect Minnick by phone and have assured him of my strong commitment to welcome him to the Delegation as we address the issues confronting Idaho and the nation. I have long practiced an open door, bipartisan approach and that will continue as Walt becomes a member of the Idaho congressional delegation.”

Sali not ready to give in yet

Though only two precincts remain uncounted, GOP Congressman Bill Sali isn’t ready to concede defeat. “Well, I’d certainly rather be here talking about the stunning victory last night,” Sali said at a GOP press conference today. “Unfortunately, it’s a little close right now. There’s still a couple of precincts out there.” He said, “We’re going to wait and see how things turn out, make sure every ballot gets counted.”

Ben Ysursa, Idaho secretary of state, said counting of the last few precincts from Bonner County was going very slowly today. But, he said, “The trend in Bonner County favored Minnick over Sali, so I don’t think you’re going to have any further tightening of the race.”

Election brings almost no change to Idaho Legislature

While change swept the nation in Tuesday’s election, it didn’t happen in the election for the Idaho Legislature. Only one sitting Idaho legislator was defeated on Tuesday (Democrat Jerry Shively of Idaho Falls, who lost narrowly), and every seat in the 105-member Legislature was up for election. Of the 13 seats that changed hands, for reasons ranging from death to primary defeats, 12 were filled with legislators of the same party as the previous occupant. Some incumbents, in both parties, faced tough challenges, but when the votes were counted, all but one of them prevailed.

Ysursa: Big turnout ‘good for our democracy’

It’s after 1 in the morning in Boise, and there’s still no final word on how high voter turnout went in Idaho, but Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “It was big – it was big everywhere. We had areas that were getting low on ballots.” Yet, he said, voting went “pretty smoothly, from what I heard about wait times,” thanks in part to heavy early and absentee voting in Idaho. Final results are still nowhere in sight, which is particularly important in tight races like the one for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat. Ysursa said, “I’m going to go home for a bit, then come back. This is totally what we anticipated as far as late results.” He’s hoping for final results by 9 a.m. “The turnout may go beyond our wildest expectations,” he said. “To me, the process works. I think it’s good for our democracy and our system to see this kind of voter interest.”

Mood at GOP shindig

Things are crowded at the state Republican election night watch party at the Doubletree Riverside tonight, but the mood of the revelry is different from the usual. Idaho Republicans are accustomed to winning big on Election Night, and having much to celebrate. The last time I walked through the room, sweat glistened on foreheads, and I heard one woman mutter loudly, “He’s a Muslim!” and another say, “They can’t shove this down our throats.” Results have been slow to arrive in state races, in which Idaho Republicans expect to fare much better than their party has on the national level.

And where is Bill Sali?

I’ve been pursuing him much of the evening for a comment, but after conferring with both his wife, Terry, and his campaign spokesman, Wayne Hoffman, at the Doubletree Riverside suite where Sali’s supporters are watching results come in, I was informed that Sali, who’s closeted in another nearby hotel room, is not ready to say anything. “He’s watching the election results. He’s very enthusiastic,” Hoffman said. “He likes the way the numbers are coming in so far and we’re very optimistic.” Beyond that, there’s no comment, Hoffman said. “We’re not ready.”

Risch declares victory

Idaho Lt. Gov. Jim Risch has declared victory in his run for the U.S. Senate, with 25 percent of precincts reporting. He leads Democrat Larry LaRocco, 57 percent to 36 percent, with independent Rex Rammell trailing with 5 percent and Libertarian Kent Marmon and independent Pro-Life with 1 percent each. “Gov. Otter, thank you so much for getting on board early in this campaign and encouraging me.” He also offered thanks to Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, who co-chaired his campaign, and said, “Larry Craig, Suzanne Craig, thank you for your service to the great state of Idaho,” a statement that was met with applause and some cheers.

Risch told supporters at the Idaho GOP election night party at the Doubletree Riverside, “My fellow Idahoans, you’ve hired me to do this job and I commit to you that I will work as hard at this job as I did when I was your governor. … We have a tremendous number of challenges facing us. … We’re Americans. We can do this. All we need to do is roll up our sleeves and get to work.”

It’s hot, loud and happy at the Dems’ HQ

At the Democratic headquarters in Boise, at the Hilton Garden Inn, the mood is ebullient, and loud cheers broke out just now when NBC declared that Obama is the new president. The room is packed, there’s loud music on and off with a live singer, and there’s not a vacant parking spot in the parking lot outside. One happy young woman, clutching a beer, declared, “I don’t gotta worry about Obama – I worry about local.” Around her, people were hugging. The crowd erupted into cheers again when Walt Minnick, Democratic candidate for the 1st District congressional seat, entered the room and shook some hands, though there are no results yet in that race.

Rammell: ‘Playing for the future’

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Rex Rammell, who’s staying home in Rexburg to watch the results tonight, told Eye on Boise, “I’m not expecting to win. I’ve been playing for the future for a while.” Rammell said he’ll likely run for office again, and figures he’ll have a boost in organization and name recognition from his run this year. “I really failed in the money department,” he said. “I wasn’t able to run any ads in the home stretch, and that’s really hurt me. But I think I did a pretty decent job of getting my name into the race, and I think there’s gonna be a lot more people know who I am and what I stand for, and it’ll set me up for the future.”

Rammell said he initially loaned his campaign $60,000, and then another $250,000 – but then he had to take the larger amount back. “I had borrowed money against my real estate projects in Jackson, and I got ‘em in trouble through this financial crisis, and I had to take the 250 back,” Rammell said. “And so I’ve run this race with less than $100,000.” He added, “When that happened, and the reality of it hit me that I wasn’t going to get any money from my real estate projects, I thought, ‘There’s no way I can win this race, but I can do the best I can and build a foundation for next time.’”

‘As big or bigger than we thought’

Turnout in Idaho so far is big. “It’s looking as big or bigger than we thought,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who predicted a record turnout of 700,000, or 80 percent of registered voters. “I’ve heard good reports about not taking too long to vote, so we would hope the huge early voting is alleviating the stress on Election Day, which of course is the goal,” Ysursa said. “But the big voting time is from 5 to 8 – we’re right at it now. We’ll have to wait and see if it all works out.”

There are reports of heavy same-day registration at the polls, which only Idaho and seven other states allow, Ysursa said. There also have been some reports of counties “running a little short on ballots.” That means they’ll have to copy off more, and the copied ballots can’t be run in optical-scan machines, so it’ll take longer to count them. Unlike most states, Idaho doesn’t know in advance exactly how many voters might show up at the polls, due to its same-day registration. “There’s no magic to it – they have to go copy off ballots and end up making sure everybody gets a ballot,” Ysursa said, adding, “It’s a good problem to have. You don’t want any problems, but the problem of huge turnout it better than having low turnout. It’s huge, we all predicted it.”

The top question among voters are calling in to the Secretary of State’s office today: “Where do I go to vote?” Ysursa notes that that information also is available online at

Duncan’s last appearance in Idaho

Here are links to my full stories on the developments in the Joseph Duncan case today, the day of Duncan’s final sentencing and final appearance in Idaho. You can read my main story here, and my sidebar here on my interview with Steve Groene, father of two children murdered by Duncan. “Out of this whole thing, I hope it gets some laws changed,” Groene said. “That’s something I plan on taking some time to do. There needs to be a one-strike law – you do it once, you’re history.”

Judge: ‘You will always be a danger’

After Duncan gave his odd statement in court, Judge Edward Lodge immediately sentenced the killer for his remaining non-capital federal crimes, saying the court must impose “a sentence that reflects the severity of the offenses, provides just punishment, and promotes respect for the law.” Duncan’s crimes against two innocent children “were unfathomably cruel and sadistic, in my judgment,” Lodge told Duncan. “Your self-proclaimed rampage against society ended with the vicious torture and violent acts against these victims. … There’ve been no redeeming qualities demonstrated throughout the course of your life that would lessen the risk to society.”

The judge declared, “The message must be sent to all child predators that such … crimes will result in a permanent lack of freedom, without any chance of reprieve.” He added, “You are and always will be a danger to society.”

Three death sentences and nine life sentences

Between the state and federal charges, at the conclusion of today’s sentencing proceedings, Joseph Duncan now faces three death sentences and nine life sentences for his crimes against a North Idaho family. And he may yet get another death sentence in California, for the abduction and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez.

There are reasons why courts pile such sentences atop one another – and the recent Kevin Coe case provided one, where sentences on two counts were overturned on appeal, leaving only one remaining. “Sometimes on appeal, some of the convictions can be thrown out, and that may very well affect the overall sentence,” said University of Idaho law professor Richard Seamon. In a case like Duncan’s, the multiple sentences may seem to be “piling on,” Seamon said, since they’re so severe and so duplicative. “That may be some kind of record,” he said. “I suppose you’d have to look at people like Ted Bundy or someone to find someone with that many sentences all at once.” But the stacking of the sentences also has symbolic significance, he said, showing “that each life counts, each offense is individually valued and considered.”

Steve Groene, two of whose sons were murdered by Duncan, said, “I just want to see him put to death. Once you’ve got a death sentence, what else matters? You’re not going to live out four life terms. That’s all just kind of a moot point.” Groene said what he’d like to see come out of the case is a change in laws on sexual predators. “There needs to be a one-strike law – you do it once, you’re history,” he said.

Wendy Olson, an assistant U.S. attorney who helped prosecute Duncan, said the law requires the multiple sentences. In addition to ensuring that penalties remain if some convictions or sentences are later overturned, the additional sentences make the point that “this kind of crime in itself carries a life sentence,” she said, and that “this is worse conduct than the one-life-sentence case. That’s why it’s done.”

Tom Moss, U.S. Attorney for Idaho, said, “Today was the time to wrap things up. … It’s just hard to describe the evil involved in these crimes.”

Steve Groene: ‘I hope this guy dies soon’

Steve Groene says he doesn’t want Joseph Duncan tried in California, because, “There’s no reason to spend the taxpayer’s money and there’s no reason to drag Anthony Martinez’ memory through the crap like they did Dylan’s.” Duncan, he said, will “never spent time in a California prison – there’s no point spending that type of money.” With his multiple death sentences and multiple life terms, Groene said of Duncan, “I hope this guy dies soon.”

Three more life terms for Duncan

Idaho 1st District Judge Fred Gibler has sentenced Joseph Duncan to three more fixed life terms, for the murders of Brenda Matthews Groene, Mark McKenzie and Slade Groene in 2005, in accordance with a plea agreement. Gibler, addressing Duncan through a video link, told Duncan before pronouncing the sentence that he’d give him the opportunity “to say anything you have to say at this point.”

Duncan, sitting alone at the defense table, his long hair grown even longer, his beard even fuller, responded, “I have nothing to say.” Duncan is attired just as he was during his federal sentencing hearing, in a garish yellow-orange sweatshirt and yellow prison-issue scrubs. “You have nothing to say?” the judge said. “Correct,” Duncan said.

The three fixed life terms for the three 2005 murders will be served concurrently, Gibler said, but they’ll be consecutive to the three consecutive life terms Duncan already has received on state kidnapping charges for binding the three victims before he murdered them.

In court this morning, Steve Groene, father of the murdered children, watched silently, tapping his foot, dressed in a black leather jacket and black jeans. Afterward, he told a companion, “The next stop is California.”

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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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