BOISE – The largest jury pool ever summoned to federal court in Idaho gathered at a Boise convention center Monday to face a thin, shaggy-haired killer whose fate rests in their hands.
Of 325 potential jurors, 12 plus three alternates will decide whether Joseph Duncan should die for what he did to two North Idaho children. The convicted murderer and child molester has pleaded guilty to all charges in a 10-count federal indictment for kidnapping and molesting Dylan and Shasta Groene, and killing 9-year-old Dylan.
“A jury will be chosen to determine whether or not Mr. Duncan receives a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release or the death penalty,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge told the prospective jurors.
The pool was so large that the opening of jury selection was moved from the federal courthouse to the Boise Centre on the Grove, where Duncan, dressed in a short-sleeved orange prison jumpsuit, was escorted in a side door amid tight security.
“The primary reason we are gathered here is there is no space in the courthouse that is large enough to accommodate all of the chairs necessary to comfortably seat you,” the judge told the potential jurors, who sat quietly sipping soda and bottled water as they waited for the proceedings to begin. They filled nearly every seat in a large auditorium inside the convention center, while attorneys, court staffers and Duncan were lined up on a stage with the judge.
The potential jurors, some of whom had to drive two hours, started arriving at the convention center at 7:30 a.m. and waited in long lines snaking through a public plaza outside. Of 327 potential jurors called from 16 southern Idaho counties, only two didn’t show – and one of those had a medical emergency.
“It’s a good reflection of our citizens that 99.9 percent of our citizens showed up,” said Cameron Burke, administrator of the federal court.
Duncan, looking thin and hugging his arms over his stomach, sat between two of his attorneys in the front row on the crowded stage.
As the judge read the list of charges against him, he sat blinking, looking mostly down at the table in front of him, but occasionally glancing at the potential jurors, whose seats faced him in rising arcs in the large lecture hall-style auditorium. Some cupped their hands over their mouths. All sat quietly.
Incarcerated for 2 ½ years since his arrest in Coeur d’Alene,
Duncan, 44, earlier pleaded guilty to state charges to killing three members of the children’s family at their Wolf Lodge Bay home in 2005 to get to the two children.
Duncan is a Tacoma native who spent most of his adult life in Washington state prisons. He was on the run from a child molesting charge in Minnesota when he drove past the Groene home in May 2005 and spotted the two siblings playing.
A multistate manhunt was launched after the two children disappeared, and their mother, older brother and mother’s fiancée were found bludgeoned to death. Seven weeks later, a waitress at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant spotted Shasta, then 8, with Duncan, and he was arrested. Dylan’s remains later were found at a campsite in Montana.
Duncan also is a suspect in the deaths of three other children, one in California and two in Washington.
Prospective jurors filled out long questionnaires Monday, which will be sealed from public view. On Wednesday, attorneys on both sides will begin questioning individuals. Over the next two to four weeks, the large jury pool will be winnowed down to 12 jurors and three alternates, who will then decide if Duncan should die.