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County watching Duncan case costs

Kootenai County commissioners have asked Joseph Duncan’s public defender to get pre-approval for all expenses related to the triple-homicide case.

They made the request in a memo to Public Defender John Adams. The lawyer for Duncan said in a court hearing last week there were “funding issues” related to the case. Adams declined to elaborate this week on what he meant by that.

Commissioner Katie Brodie said she thought the Feb. 17 memo may have come across as an insult to Adams. That’s not how it was intended, she said.

Commissioner Gus Johnson said the commission isn’t restricting spending on the case, but it did ask Adams to run expenses past it so it could “monitor the costs.”

Johnson said he’s on a statewide committee for the Capital Crimes Defense Fund – a cooperative that all but one Idaho county pays into annually to help cover the costs of defending death penalty cases.

He said he wants to be able to keep tabs on what is spent to defend Duncan so he can report back to the committee. Johnson said if the fund is depleted, member counties could face an increase in dues.

Each county pays into the fund based on population. Kootenai County’s dues were $51,500 this year, Johnson said.

Kootenai County must pay the first $10,000 of Duncan’s defense before the state fund kicks in to help with non-attorney costs, such as expert testimony and document costs. Not covered, though, are the wages and overtime pay for Duncan’s county lawyers.

County Finance Director David McDowell said only a fraction of the attorney costs for the case have been tabulated. So far, $63,000 has been spent to prosecute and defend Duncan.

The county has also paid $223,658 in its investigation of the case. Duncan is charged with the murders of three people at a home near Wolf Lodge last May, allegedly so he could abduct two children, Shasta and Dylan Groene. Dylan was later killed.

Adams was appointed to represent Duncan after the court found the suspect couldn’t afford to hire his own attorney.

Adams broached the idea last week that a plea bargain in the case could save the county money. Prosecutor Bill Douglas said no one knows how much the case will cost one way or the other.

Brodie said it wouldn’t be appropriate for the commission to officially weigh in on whether it agrees with Douglas’ decision to seek the death penalty for Duncan. She said she has concerns beyond the financial impact a trial could have, though.

“There’s going to be a lot of costs and a lot of heartbreak to a little girl,” she said, referring to Shasta Groene, now 9. “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this differently?”

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