October 13, 2007 in Idaho

Duncan’s January trial date unchanged

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 
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BOISE – Joseph Duncan’s attorneys have plenty of time to prepare for a January trial, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge declared Friday, and he refused to let Duncan’s former lead attorney walk away from the case.

The judge rejected bids from the defense to delay for a year the trial of the man accused of one of North Idaho’s most notorious crimes – a multiple murder, kidnapping and child-molesting case that left four victims dead in 2005.

Ruling from the bench after hearing arguments from both sides, Lodge said personal problems involving the former lead attorney for Duncan – Roger Peven, of Spokane – shouldn’t delay the federal trial.

Defense attorneys said Peven had withdrawn from the case, and work they thought already had been done by his office hadn’t been completed. “That’s a remarkable and extreme circumstance,” defense attorney Tom Monaghan, of Boise, told the court. “He’s not on the case anymore.”

Defense attorneys said that by pressing forward, the prosecution was risking any verdict later being overturned because of ineffective counsel, but Lodge dismissed that as a “red herring.”

Lodge said he’s not allowing Peven to withdraw from the case, and Peven’s knowledge from working on it from the start will help the rest of the defense team.

Peven will continue to consult with Duncan’s three other attorneys – Monaghan; Mark Larranaga, of Seattle; and Judy Clarke, of San Diego _ Lodge said. The judge said most death penalty cases have two defense attorneys and Duncan will have more than that.

Larranaga argued that the case has turned out to be far more complex than the defense attorneys originally anticipated. Because Duncan faces a possible death penalty for the kidnapping and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene and other crimes, the defense is required to gather extensive mitigating information about Duncan, such as his other crimes and his entire life history.

Larranaga told the court that he learned only in August about problems with Peven’s role in the case, “regarding the personal problems that he and his office were facing and that he was seeking withdrawal. … I learned for the first time that things that we thought were getting done are, in fact, not.”

Peven has been involved in Duncan’s case since shortly after the killer’s arrest in July 2005. He visited Duncan at the Kootenai County Jail at least a dozen times that year, attended court hearings and was a spokesman for the defense on proposed plea agreements before Duncan’s guilty plea to state charges a year ago.

Federal Prosecutor Wendy Olson said another year’s delay in the federal trial wouldn’t be in the best interest of the surviving child in the case, Shasta Groene, whose testimony is expected to be key.

The girl was 8 years old when Duncan allegedly kidnapped her and her brother Dylan and allegedly tortured and killed the boy after holding the children captive for weeks. Duncan already has pleaded guilty to killing the children’s mother, Brenda Groene; her fiance, Mark McKenzie; and the children’s 13-year-old brother, Slade, at the family’s Wolf Lodge Bay home near Coeur d’Alene.

Lodge noted that he’s already designated the case as one of special importance because of the involvement of a child witness, and he said that is a major consideration in considering any delays. “While it’s a difficult situation, it’s not an extreme circumstance, so I’m staying with the trial date,” which is Jan. 22.


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