The possibility that drugs were a factor in the slaying of his mother and younger brother has Jesse Groene wanting to go straight, he told Judge John Mitchell in court Tuesday.
He said his life has changed since his mother, Brenda Groene, stepfather, Mark McKenzie, and brother Slade Groene were bludgeoned to death last month in their Wolf Lodge-area home.
Missing from the bloody crime scene were Jesse Groene’s youngest siblings, 8-year-old Shasta Groene and 9-year-old Dylan Groene. About 40 investigators from the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, the Idaho State Police and the FBI continue to chase down leads in the case.
“I don’t know if I’m right for sure, but I think it might have something to do with drugs,” Jesse Groene said during his sentencing hearing Tuesday afternoon. “I found out in the worst way how drugs have ruined someone’s life.
“Please let me prove to my family and myself that I have learned from this experience.”
Groene, 18, was charged with burglary and grand theft after he was caught shoplifting from the Post Falls Wal-Mart and found with a stolen Jeep on Feb. 9. He also was charged with injury to jail when he kicked a door at the jail while in custody and damaged the locking mechanism.
While being interviewed by Post Falls police officers, Groene said he had been under the influence of marijuana and methamphetamine for five days before the shoplifting incident.
Those two drugs were found in the bodies of Brenda Groene and McKenzie following their murder. Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson, however, has said that the two were not drug dealers and appeared to be only recreational users.
As part of a plea agreement, Jesse Groene pleaded guilty to the burglary and injury to jail charges. The grand theft charge was dismissed. Mitchell sentenced Groene to two years in the state penitentiary, with four more years possible.
Mitchell, however, retained jurisdiction, which means that Groene will attend a six-month program at the state Department of Corrections facility in Cottonwood, Idaho, and if he’s successful, he’ll be put on probation. If he fails, he could serve out the entire sentence.
But Mitchell made it clear that he has reservations about the deal, saying that Groene may need a year-long drug treatment program. If he gets out on probation in six months, he’ll have to figure out how to stay clean while on probation.
“Where are you going to live? Who are you going to avoid for the rest of your life?” Mitchell asked him. “You have a lot of people to avoid. Some of them might be family until they can get their addictions taken care of.”
In the courtroom watching were Jesse Groene’s father, Steve Groene, and his older brother, Vance Groene, 20, who has spent time in jail for burglary.
Last month, Mitchell granted Jesse Groene a furlough from jail for an afternoon to attend his brother and mother’s funeral. Mitchell asked whether Groene had visited a tattoo parlor that day, when he was supposed to be at only the funeral home, the service or a family gathering.
“Jesse was with me the whole time,” Steve Groene said from the gallery.
Jesse Groene said someone must have mistaken his brother, Vance, for him. Vance Groene also has a shaved head, and he apparently had his mother’s and brother’s names tattooed on him the day of the funeral.
“That was on my neck when I went to jail,” Jesse Groene said, indicating the letters NFP that are tattooed on the back of his neck. The letters reportedly stand for the North Francis Pimps.
Shortly before, Mitchell had asked him what the North Francis Pimps are.
“A lot of people think it’s a gang, but really it’s not,” Jesse Groene answered. “It’s just a group of friends who are there for each other. … It’s nothing near a gang.”
They don’t wear gang colors or do drive-by shootings, he explained to Mitchell. Mitchell said he would be looking into it further.
During an interview following the sentencing, Steve Groene discounted speculation that the North Francis Pimps could somehow be involved in the killings.
“It’s probably more a group of bored Idaho teenagers” whose activities are unlikely to infuriate some rival gang, he said.
Steve Groene said he doesn’t have any one theory for who killed his son Slade, his ex-wife and her boyfriend and then disappeared with his youngest children. He said he didn’t know his ex-wife’s circle of friends, and had he known they were into drugs, he would have gotten his children away from the household.
As it was, he didn’t see his children often because he worked all week and often played with his blues band, Blue Tattoo, on weekends. It was common for him to have disagreements with Brenda over his visitation with the kids because he’d often request a visit at the last minute when he knew he was available, he said.
“I know there are a lot of people out there who think I’m involved,” he said. “All I can say is, get a life.”
Authorities involved in the investigation, meanwhile, said it’s anything but a cold case, even though little information from it is being made public.
The investigators have conducted more than 700 interviews and taken more than 2,000 tips. Some of the work now involves checking inconsistencies in interviews and other evidence.
“It’s all that non-glamorous following leads and dogging reports,” Sheriff Watson said.