Eye On Boise

Duncan case headed back to Idaho courtroom for competency hearing

Condemned killer Joseph Duncan will be back in an Idaho federal courtroom in January,  for a two-week hearing on whether he was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is now sorting through issues relating to experts who will testify;  he issued a ruling last week on that. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.  Duncan’s defense attorneys say the crux of the case is whether Duncan suffered from religious delusions or merely held unusual religious beliefs, according to court documents.

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnapping, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene of Coeur d’Alene. He also received nine life sentences for a murderous rampage in 2005, in which he killed three members of Dylan’s family in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived. Since then, Duncan also has been convicted of a previous kidnapping and murder involving a 10-year-old California boy, drawing two more life sentences; in that case, after weeks of expert testimony, the court also ruled him mentally competent.

In the Idaho case, however, despite extensive delays for evaluations of Duncan’s mental competency, the judge had never held a competency hearing in open court. That meant all the information on Duncan’s mental competency remained secret. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that without such a hearing there was “reasonable doubt” about Duncan’s competency, and ordered Lodge to hold a “retrospective” competency hearing on Duncan’s mental state in 2008.  If, after the hearing, Lodge rules that Duncan was competent when he waived his right to appeal, the death sentence stands. But if not, Lodge would then have to hold another hearing to determine if Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to an attorney in his 2008 sentencing trial and instead represented himself. That could force a replay of the whole sentencing trial.

That sentencing trial included graphic testimony and evidence about the crimes of the serial child molester and murderer. In his closing statement in that trial in 2008, Duncan told the jury, “You people really don’t have any clue yet of the true heinousness of what I’ve done.”




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Betsy Z. Russell




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