February 26, 2006 in Opinion

Our View: Life in prison a sensible penalty for Groene killings

The Spokesman-Review
 
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If convicted child molester Joseph Edward Duncan III brutally murdered Brenda Groene, son Dylan and her lover, Mark McKenzie, at their Wolf Lodge Bay home last spring, he ought to die under capital punishment laws of Idaho.

If Duncan kidnapped, molested and murdered Dylan Groene in northwest Montana, he should pay the ultimate penalty.

If he did these horrible things and forced 9-year-old Shasta Groene to watch or participate in any of the mayhem, he’s a monster of the worst sort.

Few in the Inland Northwest have been accused of worse crimes than Duncan, who’s now facing an October trial in Kootenai County for the crimes committed at Wolf Lodge Bay. Murder. Kidnapping. Child molestation. Society’s outrage against the crimes laid at Duncan’s doorstep was so great that Oprah Winfrey asked Shasta Groene’s father, Steve, to appear on her national television show to discuss the dangers posed by violent sex offenders.

However, even if Duncan is convicted for the first three killings, he isn’t going to be executed any time soon. Decades from now, he and his lawyers would be filing appeals and challenging any execution dates ordered by current and future Kootenai County judges. A capital punishment case is a slow, expensive process. It should be. No one wants to see an innocent person put to death. Nor does society want guilty verdicts thrown out on technicalities.

As much as Kootenai County residents want a pound of flesh, there is a more sensible way to resolve this case – a plea bargain that would put Duncan in prison for the rest of his life without possibility of parole. Public Defender John Adams hinted that he’d accept such an arrangement, after winning a trial delay of six months Thursday. Prosecutor Bill Douglas should accept it. After all, Duncan would spend his life in prison, the county would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal expenses, if not more, and Shasta Groene would be spared the trauma of reliving a nightmare on the witness stand.

The murder case against Duncan offers compelling reasons to opt for alternative punishment. Not only are there significant financial reasons for the state to accept a plea bargain in this case, but the chances of executing someone for heinous crimes like the Wolf Lodge Bay killings are becoming slimmer every day, even in conservative Idaho. The only execution in Idaho since the 1950s took place 12 years ago.

Douglas should snap up the deal Adams placed on the table Thursday when he said:

“If you want to have this case in the county for at least another 20 years, keep asking for death. If you want to spend money on it for the next 20 years, keep asking for death. If you want Shasta Groene to have this case in her life for 20 years, keep asking for death. If you want it all to go away, don’t ask for death.”

It’ll never all go away. But some of it can. The prosecutor should take Adams’ deal. And then let the federal government try Duncan for kidnapping across state lines and Dylan Groene’s slaying.

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