BOISE – Joseph Duncan, acting as his own attorney, acknowledged Friday that a videotape he made of himself torturing and abusing a 9-year-old North Idaho boy he later murdered is so disturbing that it could leave some viewers emotionally scarred.
“This video has a potential of victimizing people,” Duncan told U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge as he sought the removal of a prospective juror who indicated he could have trouble watching the graphic videotape, in part because of a family member’s past abuse. “And anybody who’s sensitive, I’m concerned about that.”
The judge agreed to remove the prospective juror from further consideration.
It was the most active role Duncan, 45, has taken in jury selection for his death penalty sentencing trial. Though he took over the defense end of jury selection from his standby attorneys on Thursday, he hasn’t asked any questions of any prospective jurors.
The video, which court records refer to as showing “sadistic child sexual abuse,” is one that Duncan created of himself abusing 9-year-old Dylan Groene at a cabin near a Montana campsite where he held the child and his 8-year-old sister Shasta captive for weeks.
Duncan has pleaded guilty to all charges in a 10-count federal indictment for kidnapping and molesting the children in 2005 and killing Dylan. Three charges could lead to the death penalty. He’s also pleaded guilty in state court in Kootenai County to killing three members of the children’s family, including their mother, at their Wolf Lodge Bay home near Coeur d’Alene in order to kidnap the two children.
While questioning a prospective juror Friday about possibly viewing the graphic video, U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said, “Of course a case like this is a case that involves ugly evidence.”
Jury selection progress slowed Friday. Seven jurors were approved and 11 excused for reasons including schedule conflicts and pre-drawn conclusions.
Two said they could never impose a death penalty. Four said they’d made up their minds Duncan should be executed.
One was excused on the judge’s own motion, though neither side had objected to her. Lodge said he sensed “an underlying bias” in the juror’s responses.
The case has 40 approved jurors, while a pool of more than 300 stands by. The tally must reach at least 59 approved jurors before the group is whittled down to the 12 jurors and three alternates who will hear the case. Jury selection will resume at 9 a.m. Monday. The jury, once seated, will have two options: sentence Duncan to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If Duncan doesn’t get the death penalty in the federal case, he could face it in the state case in Kootenai County.