The families of homicide victims Brenda Groene, her son Slade and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, said Monday they want the death penalty to stay on the table in the trial of accused killer Joseph Duncan.
Duncan’s public defender hinted last week that a plea agreement in the triple-murder case may be possible if Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas does not seek capital punishment.
But Douglas said there will be no negotiations, and relatives of the three victims said they back the prosecutor 100 percent.
“We’re definitely not interested in any plea bargain whatsoever,” said Darlene Torres, Brenda Groene’s mother. “Mr. Douglas – we’re behind him all the way.”
Duncan is accused of picking the Wolf Lodge-area family at random last May and killing the adults and 13-year-old Slade so he could kidnap and rape Brenda Groene’s younger children, Dylan, 9, and Shasta, then 8, according to court documents.
Shasta, the lone survivor, may testify against Duncan.
The slain woman’s brother-in-law, Mark Doble, said the family can’t believe anyone would push for a plea agreement in the case, which drew national attention and prompted several states to consider tougher laws against violent sexual offenders.
“For anybody to think we’d want to plea-bargain with him, they’re totally crazy,” said Doble, husband of Brenda Groene’s younger sister, Sandra. “This guy ruined our lives. He needs to pay.”
Steve Groene, father of Slade, Shasta and Dylan, hasn’t said publicly whether he agrees with the prosecutor or if he would rather avoid trial through a plea agreement.
He did not return calls seeking comment.
Duncan’s lawyer, Public Defender John Adams, called the children’s father as a defense witness during a hearing last week in which 1st District Judge Fred Gibler granted Adams’ request to postpone the trial six months.
Steve Groene, accompanied by his attorney and Shasta Groene’s court advocate, testified in closed proceedings in the judge’s chambers.
After the hearing, Adams said a plea agreement would be easier on the girl.
Adams declined to comment Monday on why he had called Steve Groene as a witness.
Douglas declined to comment on whether the victims’ families were unanimous in their support of the death penalty, saying only, “Everyone is just trying to do the right thing.”
Steve McKenzie, brother of Mark McKenzie, said he understands the concern about putting Shasta on the stand, but his family believes Duncan deserves the death penalty.
“That was my dad’s son and my brother,” Steve McKenzie said. “And he was tied up and beat to death with a hammer. We don’t want to plea bargain with this guy.”
Doble said he thinks his niece is ready to testify against Duncan.
“She’s very strong,” he said. “She will be able to testify. It needs to be done.”
Doble said he can’t describe the impact the slayings have had on the families.
He said Brenda Groene’s family is especially having a difficult time as her birthday approaches Friday.
“We miss her so bad,” Doble said. “There’s just not even words for it. The man that’s responsible for doing this has to go down.”