September 29, 2006 in Idaho

Shasta worries as trial nears

Taryn Brodwater Staff writer
 
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Background and the latest updates

Duncan trial

Joseph Duncan’s triple-murder trial is set to start Oct. 16. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Shasta Groene is “pretty scared and nervous” about having to testify against Joseph Duncan at his triple-murder trial next month, the Idaho girl’s father said Thursday.

Now the 9-year-old has even more weight on her shoulders: Her father is scheduled for surgery in Seattle on Monday to have his vocal cords removed, a consequence of his throat cancer.

“It’s a lot for a little girl to have to handle, knowing her father is going through some life-threatening stuff right now,” Steve Groene said in a scratchy whisper. “She’s already lost a mother and two brothers. Having to deal with this at that time and deal with the trial at this time – it’s a lot.

“It would be a lot for an adult or anyone to handle, let alone a 9-year-old girl who’s been traumatized the way she has.”

Duncan, 43, is charged with killing Shasta’s mother and brother as well as her mother’s fiancé. His Kootenai County trial is scheduled to start Oct. 16, and he faces the death penalty if convicted.

Duncan also is suspected of kidnapping Shasta and another brother, 9-year-old Dylan, and taking them to a remote camp site in Montana, where he allegedly molested both children and killed Dylan. Federal charges have not been filed yet in those crimes.

Federal prosecutors confirmed last month they also will seek the death penalty in Dylan’s slaying.

For months Groene has lobbied for a plea deal that would keep his daughter off the stand in the local case and in cases expected against Duncan in other states.

“I’ve said this all along: I’d rather see everybody come together and plea bargain this thing out so Shasta doesn’t have to testify,” Steve Groene said. “Everybody shot that down.”

Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas has been adamant that Duncan face the death penalty for the May 2005 bludgeoning deaths of Brenda Matthews Groene, fiancé Mark McKenzie and the Groenes’ 13-year-old son, Slade, at their home near Coeur d’Alene.

The relatives of Matthews Groene and McKenzie have supported Douglas in his stand on the death penalty.

“Right now we’re still preparing for trial,” Douglas said Thursday. “My heart goes out to Steve. He’s being brave, and he’s certainly gone through some real tragedy.”

Douglas said Groene visited him at the prosecutor’s office Thursday afternoon.

“Steve indicated that he has accepted that Shasta may have to testify,” Douglas said. “He understands the reality of the criminal justice system.”

Because Shasta is younger than 10, state law requires the judge to make the final determination of whether she is capable of taking the stand. That will be decided in a closed hearing with Shasta in 1st District Judge Fred Gibler’s chambers the week before the trial.

Though recovery from surgery is expected to last at least a couple of weeks, Steve Groene said he plans to attend the trial. He may have to use a feeding tube through his nose for up to a month after surgery. And he may have little of his voice left.

Groene said he may need an assistive device to make any sounds at all after the surgery.

The 49-year-old blues musician had a small, cancerous tumor removed from his throat late in the summer of 2005, followed by intense radiation treatment. Another tumor was removed from his vocal cords in May.

Groene said he went in for a biopsy about a week and a half ago, and it tested positive for cancer. He said further tests revealed a “sizable tumor” on his vocal cords.

He said his throat is extremely sore, and it hurts to talk.


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