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Duncan case goes into prosecution

A dramatic week of revelations in the Groene killings and missing children’s case ended quietly with officials protecting remaining details of the investigation for upcoming court proceedings.

Those court proceedings involve kidnapping charges and potentially four counts of murder filed by state and, perhaps, federal prosecutors.

“We’re in that transition period where we’re moving from investigation to prosecution,” said Kootenai County Sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger.

Next week, results of DNA testing on human remains found Monday in Montana should determine whether or not the remains are those of Dylan Groene, the 9-year-old boy who has been missing since his mother, brother and mother’s boyfriend were found bludgeoned to death in their home May 16.

Dylan’s sister, 8-year-old Shasta Groene, has been released to her father’s care after spending most of the week in Kootenai Medical Center recovering from her ordeal.

She was recognized a week ago when she showed up at the Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant shortly before 2 a.m. with Joseph E. Duncan III, 42, a level 3 registered sex offender from Fargo, N.D.

Police were called and Duncan was arrested without incident.

On Tuesday, Duncan was charged with two counts of first-degree kidnapping. He’s accused of snatching Dylan and Shasta from their home the night of the triple homicide and taking them to primitive campsites in Montana where he repeatedly sexually molested them.

Shasta has told investigators that Duncan acted alone, and that he was the only adult she was with during the nearly seven-week disappearance.

If the remains found in Montana’s Bitterroot Mountains turn out to be Dylan’s and detectives have enough evidence to file charges, Duncan could be facing four counts of first-degree murder. Also dead are Brenda Groene, 40, Mark McKenzie, 37, and 13-year-old Slade Groene.

Montana authorities do not intend to file charges in the case, said Shaun Donovan, attorney for Mineral County, where the human remains were found.

If Dylan was killed in Montana, it was likely connected to the kidnapping across state lines, which means that federal kidnapping laws would apply, he said.

“Given that, the U.S. District Court in Idaho has jurisdiction over a homicide that arises out of a kidnapping,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Idaho could not be reached for comment Friday, but as of the end of the week, no federal charges had been filed against Duncan.

Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson said federal charges also may be filed where federal law is stronger than state law, or offers the best chance at prosecution.

“There’s no jealousy of jurisdiction,” he said. “The agency will take this and run that has the best possibility of the strongest results. A person that would commit this kind of act needs to be off the street.”

Lansing Haynes, chief deputy prosecutor for Kootenai County, declined to elaborate on the possible charging scenarios, saying it’s premature.

“The investigation’s ongoing, and we’ve got to wait and see where it goes with the evidence,” he said.

Meanwhile, other agencies across the country are looking into whether Duncan could be connected to missing children cases in their jurisdiction.

In Chisholm, Minn., police are looking into whether Duncan had anything to do with the disappearance of 5-year-old Leanna “Beaner” Warner in June 2003. Duncan allegedly wrote about the girl in his Web log.

But Chisholm Police Chief Scott Erickson said Friday that it’s a long shot in a frustrating case.

“In reality, every community that has a missing child is going to try to connect this guy to it,” Erickson said.

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