On April 5, 2005, Joseph E. Duncan III appeared in Minnesota District Court in Detroit Lakes, Minn., where he pleaded not guilty to two felony charges of criminal sexual assault. He appeared in court after a summons was mailed to his home in nearby Fargo, N.D.District Judge Thomas Schroeder set bail at $15,000 and ordered Duncan to check in with a probation officer once a week until his next court hearing on May 16. Moments after his initial court appearance, Duncan wrote a check for the bail amount. He checked in with his probation officer twice, but was not seen again by authorities until his arrest at 2 a.m. July 2 when he was spotted at a Denny’s Restaurant in Coeur d’Alene with 8-year-old Shasta Groene.
In both Detroit Lakes and Coeur d’Alene, considerable outrage has been expressed at the $15,000 bail amount set for Duncan, who has a history of predatory criminal sexual behavior. By comparison, Minnesota statutes recommend a $14,000 bail amount for felony drunk driving charges.
The hearing began with Judge Schroeder informing Duncan that he faced up to 25 years in prison and a $35,000 fine. Duncan’s attorney, Dennis Fisher of Moorhead, Minn., then told the judge that Duncan would plead not guilty to both charges. Michael Fritz, assistant Becker County attorney, asked for a $25,000 bond.
Following is a transcript of the rest of the court proceedings:
Prosecutor Fritz: Your honor, we’re asking the court to set bail at $25,000. If he posts under the bond, that the court impose the following conditions: that he have no contact with the victims; that he have no contact with minors; that before he leaves today, your honor, that because he is a North Dakota resident, that he sign a waiver of extradition; that he – court order of course – that he make all court appearances; that he keep in contact with his attorney, remain law abiding. We also ask the court to impose an order that he report to a probation agent, to assign the probation office and report on a regular basis, pending the outcome of these proceedings.
Judge Schroeder: You’re asking for all that? I’m puzzled as to why this was a summons.
Prosecutor Fritz: Your honor, there were a number of different reasons, originally as it went out as a summons and I’m going to refrain from making those comments in open court at this time because of the investigation that went on.
Judge Schroeder: Mr. Fisher?
Defense Attorney Fisher: Judge, it appears to me that because of the summons, and he did show up today, although I had to continue it from yesterday to today, he has not committed any kind of violations of any kind since he has been in Fargo. This is the first violation that’s come to anybody’s attention. He is a student at NDSU and he is going to finish his degree of computer science within the month, and he has some projects he needs to address to get his degree. He also works two jobs. He is a computer software developer for a company in Fargo. He is, of course, registered as a sex offender, judge, and they made their most recent visit to him – the Fargo police did – last week, and he has been absolutely law abiding and been a consistent resident and a person who is taking his obligations as a citizen very seriously. I would ask, Judge, if you’re going to impose a money bond, that you make it a 10 percent bond and set it at $10,000, so that there is some opportunity then for Mr. Duncan to preserve some of his resources. The other conditions, your honor, report to the probation agent, Judge, I hope that you will do by phone. He will be in touch with me all the time and I will report to the court if I get the first word that he is going anyplace else. But waiver of extradition is not a problem. Obviously no contact with the victims or minors is not a problem.
Judge Schroeder: Ok. Mr. Fritz?
Prosecutor Fritz: Obviously, your honor, the conditions of release can be addressed at any time, and I stand by my previous request.
Judge Schroeder: Well, I’m going to need more information. You’re not willing to disclose some things in open court, and we’ll just have to recess to chambers. There is quite a difference between the 25 that you’re asking for and the 10 that Mr. Fisher is asking for. So we’ll recess to chambers at this time.
(The transcript ends at this point because the attorneys and judge adjourn to the judge’s chambers, where a court reporter is not present.)
– James Hagengruber