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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 back in Idaho court, Legislature off and running for session…

Condemned multiple murderer Joseph Duncan will be back in an Idaho federal courtroom today, for a retrospective competency hearing, to determine if he was mentally competent in November of 2008 when he waived his appeals. If he’s ruled competent, Duncan will go back to federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., to await execution. If not, more court proceedings would ensue – possibly including a replay of his whole death penalty sentencing trial. You can read my full story here from today’s Spokesman-Review.

Meanwhile, the Idaho Legislature is off and running for its session. JFAC is meeting this morning and will begin sorting through the governor’s proposed budget for next year. House and Senate Democrats will give their response to yesterday’s State of the State message at 10 a.m., and this afternoon at 4, the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee will meet in the Capitol Auditorium and release a report on workforce issues affecting public school teachers in Idaho.

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.”

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.

Expert: Secrecy contributed to 9th Circuit ruling

When Joseph Duncan received three death sentences and nine life terms in federal court in Idaho for his murderous 2005 attack on the Groene family in North Idaho, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ordered two extensive mental evaluations that delayed Duncan's death penalty sentencing trial for months. But he never held a hearing on the issue in open court; as a result, all of Duncan's mental evaluations remained secret.

James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University and an expert on the death penalty and mental competency, said, “There's no reason for the judge in Idaho to keep all this stuff secret - there's just no reason at all.” Said Cohen, “The only justification would be to protect the privacy of the defendant.” But, he said, “He lost that when he was indicted for this particular crime.”

Secrecy was extensive in the sentencing trial, with numerous documents sealed from public view, leading to several legal challenges by the media. Much of the secrecy came because the case involved a surviving child victim, but it also covered all issues of Duncan's mental competency. Cohen said there are “at least two benefits” to a public competency hearing. The first, he said, is that psychologists, psychiatrists or other experts “might be able to learn something from his mental illness that could head off others. And two, it's very important that our system work right - and we don't punish people that are mentally ill to that extreme.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Olson: Duncan’s death sentence still in place for now

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson is making the emphatic point that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling today does NOT overturn Joseph Duncan's death sentence; instead, it reverses U.S. District Judge Lodge's order waiving Duncan's right to appeal, ordering Lodge to hold a retrospective competency hearing before deciding on that issue. Though it's a development that could potentially lead to a rerun of Duncan's entire sentencing trial in Idaho, for now, Duncan's death sentence remains in effect - and he remains on Death Row at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

What the 9th Circuit has done is order Duncan back into court in Idaho for the competency hearing. It's not clear yet how soon that would occur; either side has the option of appealing the 9th Circuit's ruling. Olson said her office has 14 days to decide on that. “We're not going to discuss how we're going to proceed forward,” she said.
“Our position throughout the proceedings was that Duncan was competent. That's the position we asserted.”

Judge Lodge ordered a full competency evaluation of Duncan; it delayed the sentencing trial for months. But he didn't order a hearing on the matter in court. “There was no actual hearing in court where witnesses were called and cross-examination was conducted,” Olson said. “The Court of Appeals is saying, as a procedural matter, the district court should have done that.”

Olson: Every court has found Duncan competent

U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said in a statement, “Since his arrest in July 2005, Joseph Edward Duncan, III, has been found competent by every court or jury to have considered the issue. He has three times pleaded guilty to murder charges or offenses resulting in death, each time with the assistance of counsel. At the time of his guilty pleas in October 2006 in Kootenai County, Idaho, December 2007 in federal district court in Boise and March 2011 in Riverside County, California, none of Duncan’s counsel asserted in court that Duncan was incompetent to enter a guilty plea. After Duncan was sentenced to death in U.S. District Court in Idaho, he was transferred to Riverside County, California, to face state charges in connection with the 1997 murder of a 10-year-old boy. Both a jury and the presiding judge found that Duncan was competent to proceed in that case. Throughout the federal court proceedings in the District of Idaho, the United States Attorney’s Office took the position that Duncan was competent.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office will participate in the retrospective competency hearing, as directed by the distinguished judges who serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. No hearing date has yet been set.” You can read her full statement here.

9th Circuit ruling could lead to rerun of whole Duncan sentencing trial

Here's a link to the 9th Circuit ruling out today on Joseph Duncan, which orders U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a competency hearing to determine if Duncan was competent to waive his right to appeal his death sentence. If the answer is yes, then the sentence will go forward. If not, the federal court in Idaho would have to “proceed to determine whether Defendant competently waived his right to counsel before the penalty phase hearing.” If it then finds that he wasn't competent to do that, it would have to “vacate Defendant’s sentence and convene a new penalty phase hearing with Defendant properly represented.” That would mean a rerun of Duncan's entire sentencing trial in federal court in Boise for his deadly attack on the Groene family of North Idaho.
  

9th Circuit suspends Joseph Duncan’s death sentence

Here's a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out the death penalty of Joseph Edward Duncan III, saying he should have been given a competency hearing before he was allowed to waive his appeal. The appellate court handed down the ruling Monday, ordering U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge to hold a retrospective competency hearing for Duncan. Duncan was sentenced to die in 2008 for kidnapping, torturing and murdering a 9-year-old Coeur d'Alene boy in 2005. Prosecutors said Duncan snatched Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister from their northern Idaho home after killing their older brother, mother and mother's fiance. Duncan kept the children at a remote Montana campsite for weeks before killing Dylan and returning with Dylan's sister to Coeur d'Alene, where he was arrested.

FBI agents honored for work on Duncan case

Six FBI special agents and support personnel from Idaho also have been awarded the U.S. Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement for their work on the Joseph Duncan case, joining five from the U.S. Attorney’s office prosecution team. The six from the FBI: Special Agents Mike Gneckow and Gail Gneckow, Supervisory Senior Resident Agent Donald Robinson Jr., Investigative Operations Analyst Dorothy Boyles, Evidence Technician Esther Tamez, and Financial Analyst Michele Lewis.

Special Agent in Charge Timothy J. Furhman of the Salt Lake City FBI field office had this comment: “As we have said from the beginning, the number one goal of the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office personnel who investigated and prosecuted this case, was to achieve justice for the victims of the heinous criminal act perpetrated by Mr. Duncan. Recognition of the efforts of the personnel most deeply involved in this case is a testament to not only their efforts, but a number of other personnel from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Salt Lake City FBI Field Office.  They worked together to achieve justice for Dylan Groene, Brenda Groene, Slade Groene, Mark McKenzie, and of course, Shasta Groene.  These efforts by both the investigative staff and prosecutive staff are in the highest traditions of the FBI and the Department of Justice.  Finally, this recognition could not have occurred without the cooperation and involvement of Steve Groene and other family members and friends of the victims.”

U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said, “This was an opportunity to applaud the commitment and efforts of our dedicated employees as well as our dedicated federal, state and local law enforcement agents and officers, notably the FBI, Idaho State Police, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office and Coeur d’Alene Police Department, but also a time to remember the victims and survivors of this tragic event.  Although nothing we can do will heal the wounds this family has suffered, we hope that we have brought some sense of justice and closure.”

Federal prosecution team honored for work on Duncan case

Five employees of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Idaho, including Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wendy Olson and Traci Whelan, have been honored with the Attorney General’s Award for Excellence in Law Enforcement for their work on the Joseph Duncan case, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today. All five were part of the Duncan prosecution team; in addition to the two attorneys, those honored included Paralegal Specialist Denise Price, Litigation Support Specialist Pam Rocca, and Victim-Witness Specialist Kristi Johnson. “It is my privilege to honor these recipients for their outstanding service and commitment to our country,” Holder said. “Their varied accomplishments have advanced the interests of justice on behalf of the American people, and I’m proud to call them my colleagues.”

Duncan was given three death sentences plus multiple life prison terms in federal court in Idaho for his 2005 attack on the Groene family in Coeur d’Alene, which left four family members dead and which just one 8-year-old child survived.

Delays stall Duncan appeal

Thirteen months after multiple murderer Joseph Duncan was handed three death sentences by an Idaho federal court jury, his appeal in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals remains stalled at its earliest stage: The appellate court has yet to rule on whether it can even consider the appeal. Duncan said he didn’t want to file an appeal, but his standby attorneys filed it for him anyway. The high court has ordered the attorneys to present arguments on two points: Whether the appeal can even be considered, when Duncan didn’t want it filed; and whether he was mentally competent to waive his right to appeal. But the defense attorneys have sought and received two lengthy delays to submit those arguments; the second was granted just last week. You can read my full story here from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review.

Calif. judge: Duncan should stand trial there

Joseph Duncan, whose crimes against a North Idaho family in 2005 shocked the state, should stand trial for a 1997 child abduction and murder in California, a judge there has ruled. Duncan, who faces a possible fourth death sentence, is again asking to act as his own attorney. You can read the full story here at spokesman.com.

Duncan extradited to California

Joseph Duncan, the notorious serial killer and child molester whose attack on a Coeur d’Alene family shocked the state, has been extradited to California, where he faces another possible death sentence for the 1997 kidnap and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez. Earlier, Duncan received three death sentences in federal court in Boise for the kidnap, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene of Coeur d’Alene, and multiple life sentences for the murders of Dylan’s mother, mother’s fiance and 13-year-old brother, and for the kidnap and molesting of his then-8-year-old sister Shasta, the only one to survive Duncan’s 2005 attack on the family. Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco reported that Duncan was taken into Riverside County custody this morning. Pacheco has scheduled a new conference for this afternoon with Diana Gonzales, Anthony’s mother.

During Duncan’s federal sentencing trial in Boise, testimony showed that Duncan admitted to Anthony’s murder in interviews with police, after he was arrested for his Idaho crimes.

Duncan moved to Indiana

Condemned murderer Joseph Duncan has been transferred to U.S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Ind. that houses the federal Death Row, but Riverside County, Calif. still is working to bring the killer there to try him in another case. “There is some paperwork that we need to complete and get approved,” said Michael Jeandron, spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s office. “When we get it all sorted out, we’re going to go pick him up and bring him back.” Riverside County is seeking another death penalty against Duncan for the 1997 kidnap and murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez. 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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