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Lodge rules Duncan was competent, his death sentence appeal was waived

A federal judge has cleared the way for Joseph Duncan’s execution for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy, ruling that Duncan was mentally competent when he gave up the right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued the ruling today, following a six-week competency hearing Lodge presided over in January and February of this year.

There still could be further appeals, but Lodge’s 66-page ruling was a key step toward Duncan’s execution. The Idaho judge ruled that Duncan is “deemed competent to waive his right to appeal in this matter.”

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said, “The United States is pleased with this careful, considered decision.” Duncan’s murderous attack on a North Idaho family at their home in 2005 left three other family members dead; only 9-year-old Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Duncan on federal Death Row, but fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom

Child-killer Joseph Duncan is sitting on federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., but his fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom. Eight years after Duncan kidnapped, tortured and murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy after a murderous attack on his family, the long process that could lead to Duncan’s execution inched forward this past week, when federal prosecutors filed arguments summing up a six-week mental competency hearing that brought Duncan back to Idaho from Jan. 8 to Feb. 15. “He had the capacity to appreciate his position and to make a rational decision to abandon further litigation,” they wrote.

Duncan’s already been sentenced to death three times over for the 2005 murder of Dylan Groene. He also received nine life sentences for his bloody attack on the boy’s family at their Wolf Lodge Bay home, which left Dylan’s mother, older brother and mother’s fiancé dead; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. Duncan pleaded guilty to all charges and waived his right to appeal his death sentence. But his former defense attorneys filed an appeal for him, contending he wasn’t mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal – or when he dismissed them and chose to represent himself in his capital sentencing trial.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a full hearing on that issue in U.S. District Court in Idaho, where U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge had ruled Duncan competent after two extensive psychological evaluations in 2008, but hadn’t held a hearing on the matter in open court. Now he has, and both sides are filing their post-hearing arguments; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Judge Lodge: No closed courtroom for Duncan hearing testimony

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a request that the courtroom be closed for part of a convicted murderer's mental competency hearing. The Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/ts2JbV) reported U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling Thursday morning in the competency hearing of Joseph Edward Duncan III. An appellate court ordered the hearing to help Lodge determine if Duncan was mentally competent back in 2008, when he gave up his right to appeal his death sentence for the 2005 kidnapping of two northern Idaho children and the murder of one of them. Duncan's attorneys wanted some testimony from Duncan's former lawyers kept secret, saying it could harm the attorney-client relationship they have with Duncan and scare off current and future clients.

Psychologist: Duncan paranoid, but competent

Condemned killer Joseph Duncan scored high on a test measuring paranoia, but was still legally competent to serve as his own attorney when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence, a forensic psychologist testified in federal court in Boise yesterday. Dr. Robert Engle was the lead expert witness for federal prosecutors, who are arguing that Duncan was competent, as ruled by the court at the time. His lawyers say he wasn’t, so his waiver of appeals shouldn’t stand. You can read a full report here from AP reporter Rebecca Boone; the retrospective competency hearing on Duncan continues today in federal court, and is expected to last several weeks.

Court hearing: Duncan targeted Spokane boy before settling on his Idaho victims

Before Joseph Duncan murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy in 2005, he set his sights on a Spokane child, posing as a prospective renter and touring a Spokane duplex with the boy’s mother while ogling the child. That news emerged in federal court in Boise this morning, where a judge is trying to determine if Duncan was mentally competent in 2008 when he waived all appeals of his triple death sentence. Among the evidence being presented is hours of interviews between Duncan and two FBI agents, in which he talked about his crimes, his reasons for waiving his appeals and more.

In the interviews, Duncan corrected the FBI agents about some things in their investigation that they’d gotten wrong, including concluding that he’d targeted a Spokane preschool music program as a possible target for his crimes, before settling on the Groene family in North Idaho to attack. Actually, Duncan said, his target in Spokane was a shirtless young boy who was adjusting a for-rent sign at a duplex down an alley from the site; Duncan said he posed as a prospective renter and toured the home with the child’s mother and the youngster. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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 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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