BOISE – Joseph Duncan wasn’t just planning to kidnap, rape and murder one child – he planned to commit such crimes over and over until he died, the convicted killer told a federal jury Friday.
That admission came in Duncan’s closing arguments, a scant two hours before the jury of eight men and four women unanimously found him eligible for the death penalty on three charges for the kidnap, sexual torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene in 2005.
“You people really don’t have any clue yet of the true heinousness of what I’ve done,” said Duncan, looking straight across the courtroom at the jurors. He said that in addition to home invasions like his attack on the Groene family, he had plotted for “day care invasion, parking lot hijackings, campground kidnappings.”
“I was not searching for a child but rather I was on a rampage,” Duncan told the jury. “My intention was to kidnap and rape and kill until I was killed, preferring death easily over capture.”
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge sent the jury out of the room and warned that a closing argument is not a time for a confession, but Duncan said, “This is not a confession, my confession was a long time ago. … My argument, essentially, your honor, is no argument.”
He went on to emphasize to the jury that he intended to commit his crimes; that “way points” marked on his GPS device in his vehicle were indeed targets, from a Missoula school bus stop to a Spokane children’s music school to a long series of homes where children live; and that he intended to kill Dylan.
“The actual killing of D.G. (Dylan), no, it was no accident,” Duncan told the jury. He said he told Dylan’s sister Shasta that the first shot was an accident “merely to win her compliance.”
Duncan’s statements cemented the only point about which there had been any dispute as far as qualifying him for the death penalty: Whether he intended to commit the murder. Earlier evidence had suggested Duncan was claiming his gun went off accidentally, wounding Dylan in the stomach, and that he then killed the child with a point-blank shot to the head because he was so severely wounded.
However, a medical expert testified that Dylan could have survived the initial wound with proper care.
Jurors needed only to find one or more aggravating factors, such as a vulnerable victim or an especially heinous crime, and one or more intent factors to find Duncan eligible for the death penalty. They agreed, unanimously, on all six aggravating factors proposed by prosecutors and all four intent factors.
Friday’s unanimous verdicts mean Duncan’s death penalty sentencing trial will move into its second phase, in which the jury will determine whether he should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of release. The judge set those proceedings to begin Monday at 9:30 a.m. in Boise.
Duncan is serving three consecutive life terms for his attack on the Groene family at their home east of Coeur d’Alene, in which he bound and bludgeoned to death Brenda Matthews Groene, her 13-year-old son Slade and her fiancé, Mark McKenzie. He said he committed that crime in order to kidnap the family’s two youngest children, Dylan and his then-8-year-old sister Shasta; only Shasta survived.
Steve Groene, father of Shasta, Dylan and Slade, sat stoically in the courtroom as the verdicts were read, his eyes narrowed, blinking frequently. Outside the courtroom, Groene, who lost his vocal cords to throat cancer, told U.S. Attorney Tom Moss in the electronic monotone of his artificial voice-box, “I feel much better now.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson delivered a closing argument that wove together all the disparate pieces of evidence – some of it graphic and shocking, some of it highly technical – that jurors were presented with over five days of testimony, during which prosecutors called 41 witnesses, some of them several times.
GPS data from the vehicle Duncan drove on his crime spree, financial records, a sawed-off shotgun, videotapes of the killer sexually abusing his victim, Duncan’s journal entries, numerous photographs, and videotaped and audiotaped statements from Shasta after her rescue in 2005 were presented to the jurors. So were large items, including a beam and wire noose from the abandoned cabin where Duncan tortured Dylan.
Shasta’s detailed statements were corroborated by physical evidence in the case, Olson told the jury. The child, she said, “did not exaggerate – she was amazingly and heroically accurate.”
The child victims in the case have been referred to by their initials in court. “The defendant tortured D.G. throughout his kidnapping and murder,” said Olson. “D.G. knew and was terrified of what the defendant planned to do.”
While she spoke, Duncan burrowed his pale right hand and wrist into the left sleeve of his sweatshirt, and hunched over his folded and linked arms as if cold.
Olson said Duncan planned his crimes long in advance, debating whether to flee while facing a child-molesting charge in Minnesota, then deciding on an elaborate crime spree, buying many of the items he used in the crimes a month or more in advance.
She displayed the shotgun that Duncan stole and sawed off, then used in the crimes; photos, now familiar to the jurors, of the remote campsite where he held the two children captive for weeks and the abandoned cabin where he tortured Dylan and videotaped the abuse; and a large array of maps of several states found in Duncan’s vehicle. The maps, Olson said, “showed his travels as he looked for a victim and for a remote location to commit the crimes.”
She told the court, “The evidence in this case has proved that few murders could have been more or better planned than this one. … The evidence is overwhelming.”
In his closing statement, Duncan confirmed essentially everything the prosecutors had argued.
“Revenge was certainly putting it lightly,” Duncan told the jury. “I was on a rampage. I hated myself and I hated you. I hated everything that you represent. I hated the system. … I knew the best way to hurt you was the same way that I was hurt, an eye for an eye, except that the system didn’t take my eye, the system took my heart and it took my innocence. And that’s what my intention was, was to do the same to it.”
He offered no details about his own childhood abuse; Duncan has spent half his life in prison after being convicted of raping and torturing a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint in 1980 when he was 16.
Duncan said he intended to kill both Shasta and Dylan, but decided not to kill Shasta because, he said, “an 8-year-old little girl refused to judge me and allowed me to see the truth. And having seen the truth … I am compelled to honor it.”