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Eye On Boise

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.”

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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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