Arrow-right Camera


Death sentence would be first for prosecutor, defender

SUNDAY, OCT. 15, 2006

If Joseph Duncan is convicted and sentenced to death, it will be a first for both Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams and Prosecutor Bill Douglas.

In the dozen years that Adams has been the county’s chief public defender, not a single death sentence has been handed down. In his career, not one person he has represented at trial has been sent to death row.

Douglas, the county’s longest-serving prosecutor, has sought the death penalty before, but none of those cases has resulted in a death sentence.

Duncan’s triple-murder trial is the first death case to be heard by 1st District Judge Fred Gibler, who has been on the bench five years. In that time, Gibler has presided over a handful of high-profile cases. He sentenced convicted sex offender John Rollins Tuggle to two life terms in prison last winter after the convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to the rape and stabbing of his own 12-year-old daughter.

Last November, Gibler sentenced former Post Falls doctor William Fouche to four years in prison for video voyeurism. This summer the judge handed Daniel Lee Dixon two 25-year prison terms for fondling a child at Coeur d’Alene’s City Park.

Adams and Douglas each has handled numerous murder cases. In most in which the death penalty was a possibility, a plea deal was reached before trial.

The Duncan case won’t be the first time the two have squared off.

Douglas prosecuted the case of Scott Yager, who was sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 shooting death of a state trooper when a judge ruled the crime didn’t warrant death.

Adams also represented Gerald Barcella, a Coeur d’Alene man convicted of killing his 69-year-old landlord with a firefighter’s ax. Douglas asked for death, but a judge sentenced Barcella to 30 years to life in prison.

Idaho’s death penalty laws were revised following a 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that only juries, not judges, could impose death sentences.That means a jury – not Gibler – will decide Duncan’s fate if the suspected killer is found guilty.

The defense

“Kootenai County Chief Public Defender John Adams, 54

Background: Hired by Kootenai County in 1996. Graduate of the University of Arizona. More than a dozen years of private practice experience in Boise and Hawaii before moving to Kootenai County.

Adams on the death penalty: “My views are best expressed by those 120-plus people, including several from Idaho, who have been convicted and sentenced to death and later found positively to have been not guilty of the crime. It’s really hard to back off when you execute somebody,” Adams said in a July 2005 interview.

“Chief Deputy Public Defender Lynn Nelson, 59

Background: Nelson has two dozen years experience and has been with the Kootenai County public defender’s office since 1996. He is the former mayor of Wendell, Idaho, and a former Gooding County prosecutor.

The prosecution

“Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas, 59

Background: Elected Kootenai County prosecuting attorney in 1988 and re-elected four times. His current term ends in 2008. Graduated from Gonzaga University in 1973. He served as a judge advocate general in the Army Reserve, has worked in private practice and was a deputy public defender in Kootenai County in 1987-88.

Douglas on the death penalty: “The death penalty needs to be available for society’s worst killers and we must have the fortitude to apply it in appropriate cases,” Douglas says on his Web site,

“Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rick Baughman, 45

Background: A University of Idaho graduate, Baughman has been with the prosecutor’s office for 13 years. He was recently promoted to his current position as Douglas’ No. 2 attorney.

“Deputy Prosecutor Marty Raap, 38

Background: Attended Gonzaga University and graduated from DePaul Law School in Chicago. Douglas hired Raap five years ago. Prior to that, Raap was a public defender and did private criminal defense work in Shoshone County. He worked for two years as assistant city prosecutor for the city of Coeur d’Alene.

The judge

“1st District Judge Fred Gibler, 56

Background: Appointed in 2001 by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to replace retiring Judge Craig Kosonen. Though he presides over cases in the five northern counties of Idaho, Gibler’s home and chambers are in Shoshone County. The Idaho native graduated from the University of Idaho in 1972. Gibler worked 25 years in a Kellogg law firm before his appointment to the bench. As a private attorney, Gibler represented the mining industry in a series of natural resource damage claims and also represented the local school district.

The accused

Joseph Edward Duncan, 43

Background: Duncan spent much of his adult life in prison for raping a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint. He moved to Fargo, N.D., after his release from prison in 2000 and studied computer science at North Dakota State University. Duncan maintained a Web site and Internet blog that spoke out against society’s persecution of sex offenders. In 2004, Duncan was charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy in Becker County, Minn. He was released on $15,000 bail, but he skipped town in April and allegedly headed west. In one of his final blog entries, just four days before the three murders he’s charged with committing near Coeur d’Alene, he wrote, “My intent is to harm society as much as I can, then die.”

The key witness

“Shasta Groene, 9

Background: The lone survivor of the Wolf Lodge slayings is also the sole witness who can place Duncan at the house where her mother, brother and mother’s fiancé were killed on May 16, 2005. Shasta and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, were kidnapped from the crime scene and held for weeks at a remote Montana campsite, where Dylan eventually was killed. Duncan was arrested July 2, 2005, after he returned to Coeur d’Alene with Shasta. Waitstaff and diners at the Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant recognized the girl and called police. Shasta has since returned to Fernan Elementary School, which she attended with her brother Dylan. She is in the fourth grade.

Click here to comment on this story »