December 1, 2007 in Idaho

Duncan may plead guilty

From Staff and Wire Reports The Spokesman-Review
File photo

Joseph Edward Duncan in October 2006.
(Full-size photo)

More on this topic

Background and the latest updates

BOISE – Joseph Duncan, who has been charged with kidnapping two North Idaho children in 2005 and killing one of them, is scheduled to enter a guilty plea Monday in federal court.

A court document filed late Friday does not detail exactly which charges Duncan will plead to. But the penalty phase of his case now is due to begin Jan. 28, the document noted.

There was no indication the government will take the death penalty off the table. A gag order prevents attorneys involved from speaking with reporters.

Duncan has been charged with kidnapping, kidnapping resulting in death and sexual abuse of a minor, and related charges in the abduction of young Shasta and Dylan Groene from their Coeur d’ Alene-area home and Dylan’s subsequent death in Montana.

Duncan’s federal trial had been scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

He has already pleaded guilty in Idaho state court to kidnapping and murdering other members of the Groene family at their home in May 2005. Shasta and Dylan’s mother, Brenda Matthews Groene, her fiancé, Mark McKenzie, and her 13-year-old son Slade Groene, were bound and bludgeoned to death with a hammer. Prosecutors alleged Duncan killed the three so he could kidnap the younger children for sex.

Shasta’s father, Steve Groene, declined to comment Friday, citing the gag order in the case. Other family members could not be reached for comment.

Duncan was sentenced to life in prison without parole for kidnapping the three older victims, because he bound them before he killed them. But the state judge deferred imposing punishment on the murder counts to give federal prosecutors time to pursue their case, which is centered on events in Montana after the children were abducted.

Depending on what happens in the federal case, Duncan still could face the death penalty in state court.

Duncan is a Tacoma native who spent most of his adult life in Washington state prisons for sexual crimes against children.

He was on the run from a child molestation charge in Minnesota when he drove past the Groene home on Interstate 90 east of Coeur d’Alene, spotting Shasta, then 8 years old, and Dylan, who was 9, playing outside. Duncan stalked the Groene family for several days, then entered the home and bound and killed the two adults and the teen.

Court documents allege Duncan took the two youngest children and drove into the mountains near St. Regis, Mont., where he sexually abused them for weeks before killing Dylan. The boy’s remains were found at a remote campsite.

Duncan has been quoted in court documents as saying he was trying to return Shasta to her father when he and the girl were spotted in a Coeur d’Alene restaurant on the morning of July 2, 2005, about seven weeks after the family was attacked.

Duncan is represented by several lawyers, including federal defender and death penalty specialist Judy Clarke.

Clarke, the former director of the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, has helped keep Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, 1996 Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph and convicted child killer Susan Smith off death row.

Duncan has also been charged in a California court in the 1997 slaying of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Indio, Calif. Prosecutors there have said they also intend to seek the death penalty, and that the case involved kidnapping, torture and child molestation. In addition, Duncan is a suspect in two 1996 killings in Washington state – that of 9-year-old Carmen Cubias and 11-year-old Sammiejo White.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email