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Idaho

Duncan doesn’t want Shasta to take witness stand

Thu., May 11, 2006

Steve Groene has made it clear he doesn’t want his daughter to have to take the stand and face the man accused of murdering her two brothers, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. Now, the accused has weighed in.

Joseph Duncan wants to keep Shasta off the witness stand, according to Duncan’s attorney. Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams said his office is “100 percent behind Steve Groene and his attempts to reach a settlement (in the case) to protect his family. We share those concerns and Mr. Duncan shares those concerns.”

Adams told The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday that Duncan “doesn’t want Shasta to spend the next 10 to 20 years in courtrooms, watching the trial and appellate trial and being 20 years old and having to come back to court again.”

Steve McKenzie, brother of victim Mark McKenzie, said he doesn’t care what Duncan says.

“I would think his concern is B.S.,” Steve McKenzie said Wednesday. “If he has any concern, it’s for himself. I would doubt he would care about her safety.”

Adams said a plea agreement could be reached only if the prosecutor agrees not to seek the death penalty for his client.

Though Steve Groene is worried about Shasta having to testify, other family members and Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas say the girl is strong enough to face Duncan in court.

“Nobody wants her to testify,” Douglas said. “But my responsibility calls me to call her. My interest is in representing the community.”

Shasta Groene recently appeared in an interview with television personality Geraldo Rivera. Though he hadn’t seen the video, Douglas read Rivera’s blog, an online journal where Rivera wrote about the interview. The syndicated talk show host described Shasta as “one of America’s bravest” victims.

Douglas said he wouldn’t criticize Steve Groene for putting Shasta in front of Rivera’s cameras, but he said the father’s actions seem contradictory.

“The two could come into conflict,” Douglas said, “but I hope they do not. I think as her parent, he’s in the best position to make decisions for her.”

Douglas said Shasta’s willingness to talk to Rivera signals she could also talk in court.

“The fact that she’s able to relate to a large audience bodes well for her ability to testify in a courtroom,” he said. “That’s all I can say.”

While Douglas has said he’s willing to discuss the concerns of all family members, the prosecutor is adamant that Duncan face death if convicted of the triple-homicide. Duncan is accused of killing Mark McKenzie, Brenda Groene and her 13-year-old son Slade. He is also expected to be charged for 9-year-old Dylan Groene’s slaying, as well as homicide cases in other states.

“I want the chance to sit down with other family members to make sure they know this case is on track and to invite any comments and reactions they may have to Steve’s feelings,” Douglas said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to have a trial.”

Relatives of Mark McKenzie and Brenda Groene agree with the stand that Douglas has taken. Steve McKenzie said family members spoke with Douglas recently, but they hadn’t changed their position at all: They still want death for Duncan.

Steve Groene previously said Duncan deserves death. In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last fall, he said, “This guy took four lives and unfortunately we can only kill him once.”

At a yard sale benefit last month, Groene told the newspaper, “Family members ought to be allowed to inflict death on somebody sentenced to death.”

Because of his own ailing health – Groene has throat cancer – and a desire to keep his daughter off the stand, he is asking Douglas and prosecutors in other cases against Duncan to take the death penalty off the table, according to Douglas.

Federal prosecutors said this week that Steve Groene’s request was being taken into consideration. An unnamed official with the Justice Department told the Associated Press that plea negotiations are at a critical stage.

Adams said his office will continue to prepare for trial, even as he pushes for a plea agreement. Douglas said his office is forging ahead, too.

Some pretrial motions address the girl’s testimony. Douglas filed a motion saying the state believes Shasta is “fully competent” but is leaving it up to the discretion of First District Judge Fred Gibler, who is presiding over the case. The prosecutor is also asking that Shasta be allowed to testify some way other than face-to-face with Duncan.

Several other pretrial motions have been filed, including defense motions for a change of venue and a motion to reinstate the insanity defense, which was repealed by the Idaho Legislature in 1982.

A hearing on pretrial motions is set for Aug. 22.



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