BOISE – Joseph Duncan repeatedly threatened to kill the two children he held captive for weeks at a remote Montana campsite in 2005, the surviving victim told police shortly after her rescue.
In a videotaped interview shown to jurors in Duncan’s death penalty sentencing trial Tuesday, Shasta Groene told police that at one point Duncan brandished the claw hammer that he’d used to fatally bludgeon three members of her family.
“This is what I killed your parents with,” he told Shasta and her brother, Dylan, then 8 and 9, “and I think he said, ‘I’m gonna kill you with it too,’ ” Shasta told Kootenai County sheriff’s Capt. Dan Mattos in an interview at Kootenai Medical Center. “Me and Dylan were crying.”
The video shows a slight child wrapped in a white quilt with teddy bears on it, clutching a stuffed animal under the blanket, her bare legs sticking out as she huddled in a chair at the Coeur d’Alene hospital for the interview. It was the middle of the night, shortly after Duncan had been spotted with her at a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s restaurant and apprehended.
Jurors watched and listened intently, some clasping their hands over their mouths. The children’s father, Steve Groene, sat in the audience, where he held a tissue and left at the end of the day with red eyes. Duncan, sitting alone at the defense table, looked down. For much of the video, he closed his eyes and rested his chin on clasped hands, appearing to be praying.
The videotaped interview and three additional audiotaped interviews of Shasta were played for jurors Tuesday as they prepare to decide whether Duncan should die for his crimes or live out his days behind bars. He’s already pleaded guilty to all charges of kidnapping and molesting Shasta and Dylan and killing Dylan, after murdering three family members, including the children’s mother, Brenda; 13-year-old brother, Slade; and mother’s fiance, Mark McKenzie, in a bloody attack at their North Idaho home in 2005.
In her final taped interview, four weeks after her rescue, Shasta returned to Montana’s Lolo National Forest with investigators and showed them where the events took place. She placed labeled rocks where she, Dylan and Duncan were standing when Dylan was killed.
Her earlier statements allowed police to find the campsite within a day, Mattos told the court. She also named various pieces of evidence, including the gun Duncan used to shoot Dylan, and told investigators they’d find them in Duncan’s red Jeep Cherokee.
While earlier videos shown to jurors, recorded by Duncan, had shown the children playing innocently at the camp, Shasta told Mattos, “Jet was sometimes nice to us and sometimes really, really mean.”
She described beatings, molestation and harrowing threats, along with apologies and Duncan’s ravings about God and forgiveness.
Duncan, who goes by the nickname Jet, short for Joseph Edward III, once tied Dylan to a log and beat him on the back with a stick until the stick broke. “I saw that happen. I was tied up to a tree,” Shasta said. “Dylan was tied up to this big log. … Jet … whacked him. … It was really horrible.”
At one point, Duncan taunted Dylan for being afraid of the dark, Shasta said. “He … told Dylan that Dylan was a coward, which Dylan wasn’t – Dylan was a very brave boy,” she said.
The child said that after Duncan kidnapped the two children from their home, he put them, bound hand and foot, on the floor of his Jeep and drove to Montana. “He said that there are rules, and he wanted us to call him ‘Daddy’ and that if we tried to run away he would shoot us,” she said.
Once, when the door opened, she saw a road sign that said “Missoula,” she told police.
She recounted how Duncan killed Dylan at the campsite and said he insisted it was an accident.
However, the Jeep was between Shasta and Duncan, so she couldn’t see what he did. “He was digging through … this big, huge box, this clear box … and he was looking for beers, and then I heard something explode, and I ran to the other side of the car. I heard Dylan screaming,” she told officers.
The gun also was in the bin, and it went off, firing through the bin and hitting Dylan in the stomach.
Shasta said she then saw Duncan put the shotgun to Dylan’s head and try to fire, while Dylan begged him not to, but the gun didn’t go off. Duncan reloaded, put the gun back to the boy’s head, fired and killed him.
“He was telling me it was an accident,” she said. “He was saying, ‘Oh my God, oh my God.’ ”
Shasta told police Duncan wrapped the boy’s body in a tarp and burned it in a fire that burned all afternoon and night. He also burned numerous other items, including Shasta’s shoes, splashed with Dylan’s blood.
Duncan then loaded the ashes into at least three large garbage bags, and he and Shasta took them to a nearby culvert, where they dumped them into a pipe that washed down to the river. “There’s nothing left,” Shasta told police.
Duncan then said the campsite had “too much evil,” Shasta said, and he moved them to a campsite nearby for three to four days. Then, she said, he agreed to take her home – something he’d promised both her and Dylan repeatedly, only to change his mind.
“He said that I taught him how to love,” she told police. “He thought that he had to kidnap us and kill us, but after all he found out it was a sickness that was telling him to do it. … He thought God was telling him to do it.”
Shasta said Duncan told her that when he came to her home, “He was out looking for children to kidnap. … He went past our house, and he saw me in my bathing suit, just playing around.” Then he drove back by and spotted Dylan.
“He felt bad for killing our parents. He said that, ‘I’m sorry for killing your parents,’ it was wrong, and all that other kind of stuff,” the child said.
Shasta said Duncan took back roads into Coeur d’Alene to avoid getting caught. That matches GPS records from Duncan’s Jeep, which showed he detoured onto forest roads after leaving Kellogg about five hours before his arrest. Shasta also said Duncan wanted to see a “Star Wars” movie with her in the morning before dropping her off at a police station, partly because he wanted to see a movie before he went to prison, and partly because he wanted her to be happy.
She estimated that Duncan threatened to kill her “like 50 times.” Shasta told the officers, “Every time that Jet said he was going to kill me or Dylan, Dylan would start crying and screaming, but I would only cry.”
When asked why Duncan wanted to kill her, she said, “So he wouldn’t get caught – but I knew that he would get caught anyways.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day's top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter