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Duncan competency hearing set for Jan. 8

A court hearing on whether condemned murderer Joseph Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence has been set for Jan. 8, 2013. “There will be no extension … of the Jan. 8 date,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said this morning as he set the hearing. Lodge appointed Michael Burt, a death penalty expert from San Francisco with expertise in mental health issues, as Duncan's attorney for the hearing.

The judge had hoped to set the hearing earlier, first looking at July and then October, but Burt isn't available until December. Lodge said he set the January timing “to avoid any holiday issues with potential witnesses.”

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the 2005 kidnap, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy; he also received nine life sentences for a murderous attack on the child's family that left three other people dead. After Duncan declined to appeal his death sentence and represented himself in court at his Idaho sentencing trial in 2008, his standby attorneys filed an appeal for him against his will. Duncan now says he's changed his mind and wants to appeal the sentence; he pleaded guilty to all the charges.

However, in court filings, federal prosecutors noted, “Whether the defendant now wishes to appeal, and whether he was incompetent at the time he waived his right to appeal, are separate issues. Only the second issue is before the Court.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
  

Duncan changes mind, says he now wants to appeal his death sentence

Notorious multiple murderer Joseph Duncan was back in a Boise courtroom this morning, as lawyers and a federal judge wrangled over setting a date for a new hearing into whether Duncan was mentally competent when he waived appeals of his triple death sentence for torturing and murdering a 9-year-old North Idaho boy. Duncan, brought to Boise from federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., his hair close-cropped and graying and wearing a baggy white T-shirt, left all the talking to his attorneys on Friday morning. But in December of 2010, he submitted a hand-written, two-page letter to the court saying he now wants to appeal after all.

Duncan in the past has strongly opposed contentions that he wasn't mentally competent to make that decision in 2008. He underwent two lengthy mental evaluations before U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled him competent and allowed him to dismiss his lawyers in that sentencing trial and represent himself; he already had  pleaded guilty to all charges. The lawyers filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals against Duncan's wishes, arguing he was mentally incompetent.

“I have been very stubborn about not appealing my death sentence,” the condemned killer wrote. “My belief is that if I appeal, then I am acknowledging the system's authority to commit murder.” But he wrote that more recently, his younger brother had died, making Duncan his mother's only surviving son. “It would be utterly cruel, and indeed, inhuman, for me not to consider my mother's love when deciding what to do in regard to my own life,” Duncan wrote. “So I hereby inform you, and any others concerned, that I withdraw my waiver of appeal, and consent fully to all efforts and advice given by my attorneys to appeal.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

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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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