July 19, 2005 in City

Duncan’s prison file reveals skilled liar, sexual deviant

Richard Roesler Staff writer
 
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OLYMPIA – Shortly after Joseph Edward Duncan III’s initial release from prison, his therapist and parole officer clashed over the appropriateness of the sex life he adopted as part of his newfound freedom.

“Would you please explain how permitting Mr. Duncan to sustain an adulterous relationship with a married woman is beneficial to his sexual deviancy issues?” his community corrections officer, Sandra Silver, wrote to Duncan’s therapist.

The letter was among more than 1,000 pages of Duncan’s prison-system records released Monday by the state Department of Corrections.

The records indicate a troubled family life – one of Duncan’s fellow inmates at McNeil Island prison in the late 1980s was his own step-grandfather – and ongoing problems that confounded the counselors and parole officers whose job it was to monitor Duncan.

The file includes a heavily redacted 2000 psychological report by Dr. Carla van Dam. She said there wasn’t enough evidence to civilly commit Duncan to a secure treatment facility after his 20-year sentence. But she also seemed uneasy about his release.

“Based on the file information, however, concerns about his ability to refrain from sexually violent behavior remain,” she wrote. He was a skilled liar and an untreated sex offender, she noted, “with a longstanding history of sexually deviant behavior and sexual excitement he associates with aggression and violence.”

Duncan now is accused of murdering Brenda Groene, 40, her son, Slade Groene, 13, and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, 37, at their Kootenai County home. Authorities allege that Duncan kidnapped and sexually assaulted the two youngest members of the Groene family – Dylan and Shasta – and killed 9-year-old Dylan. Shasta, 8, was discovered with Duncan at a Coeur d’Alene restaurant early July 2.

Authorities believe Duncan picked the family at random, then spied on them with night-vision goggles while planning his attack.

Sexual expression

Duncan was first released from prison in late December 1994, 14 years after he raped at gunpoint a 14-year-old boy in Tacoma.

After about a year and a half, Silver – his parole officer – grew worried about Duncan’s behavior. In a routine polygraph test, he’d mentioned sex with at least 10 different men since his last polygraph. The tests were required every 90 days.

Silver wrote to Duncan’s therapist, a Seattle man named Glenn Pressel.

“I see two very distinct problems if you continue to permit Mr. Duncan to engage in promiscuous bathhouse sex,” she wrote. “… He is conditioning himself to expect casual sex and immediate gratification … (and) he has no incentive to work on the necessary social and dating skills which lead to an appropriate sexual relationship.”

Pressel said that all parties were consenting adults, and that bathhouse sex “is considered within the norm of gay sexual behavior within the gay community here in Seattle.”

Perhaps, Silver said, but things that are within the norm for some people – like going to a nude dance club – aren’t allowed for convicted sex offenders.

“Sexual expression is only permitted within a mature and committed relationship with an age-appropriate partner,” she wrote. And Duncan’s relationship with the married woman, she said, also didn’t meet that standard.

But Pressel responded that Duncan had only told him about the liaisons after the fact.

“I cannot forbid something that has already taken place,” he wrote.

After failing a drug test and violating other parole rules, Duncan fled the state in the spring of 1997. He was arrested several months later in Kansas City, Mo., and sent back to prison.

‘Destroy the original’

Even while in prison, however, Duncan cultivated outside relationships with people who could help him. In 1993, he wrote a letter to David “Pumpkin” Woelfert, asking Woelfert to make two copies of a corrections document Duncan had altered. Specifically, Duncan had erased the conviction for “rape,” replacing the offense with the word “assault.”

The letter opened with a warm “I love you … I’ve been imagining what your lips are going to feel like on that very first great big kiss.”

A paragraph later, however, his tone changed.

“Here’s that ‘fixed’ printout,” Duncan wrote. “Please send me 2 copies, and destroy the original.”

The letter was screened by prison officials, who seized it and charged Duncan with a rule violation: trying to forge official documentation.

Duncan protested, saying that the form wasn’t an official document at all. He said he was just trying to prevent problems.

“I had learned from jail that openly admitting to an offense such as mine was a direct invitation to severe difficulties with other inmates,” he wrote in an appeal. So at first, he said, he told everyone he was doing time for burglary.

But after more than seven years in prison, he said, other inmates were becoming increasingly skeptical. He figured that first-degree assault would be more believable to other inmates.

“I changed it to protect myself,” he said at a hearing. He was found to be in violation.

‘Surrounded by improprieties’

By 2000, Duncan was nearing the end of his maximum sentence for the 1980 rape. In March 2000, the state’s End of Sentence Review Board asked van Dam to consider whether Duncan met the legal definition of a sexually violent predator. If so, the state could have tried to have him involuntarily committed to the state’s sex predator complex on McNeil Island.

Part of the problem was that Duncan kept changing his stories. When first assessed at Western State Hospital after his 1980 arrest, he’d claimed to have raped more than a dozen boys before that first arrest.

In various interviews, Duncan also described being victimized by older children as well, and described incest. But he later recanted, saying he had just been trying to get into the mental hospital program, instead of prison.

Regardless, “All versions (of Duncan’s sexual development) suggested a history where he was surrounded by sexual improprieties,” van Dam wrote. “…There was little doubt that Mr. Duncan had a chaotic childhood fraught with sexually inappropriate contact.”

She said his offender score suggests a 61 percent chance that Duncan would reoffend, but said that his single conviction from 20 years ago provided “insufficient evidence” of risk that would justify civil commitment.

That risk, she wrote, would have been easier to show if the state could count Duncan’s many other claimed offenses.

“This is a complex case,” she wrote, “that generates more questions than it answers.”

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