June 4, 2012 in Idaho

Duncan competency hearing set for January

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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BOISE - A court hearing on whether condemned murderer Joseph Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his death sentence has been set for Jan. 8, 2013.

“There will be no extension … of the Jan. 8 date,” U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge said this morning as he set the hearing.

Lodge appointed Michael Burt, a death penalty expert from San Francisco with expertise in mental health issues, as Duncan’s attorney for the hearing.

The judge had hoped to set the hearing earlier, first looking at July and then October, but Burt isn’t available until December. Lodge said he set the January timing “to avoid any holiday issues with potential witnesses.”

In 2008, a federal jury sentenced Duncan to death for the kidnap, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy, Dylan Groene. Duncan also received nine life sentences for a murderous rampage in 2005, in which he killed three members of Dylan’s family in order to kidnap and molest the family’s two youngest children; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived.

Since then, Duncan also has been convicted of kidnapping and murdering a 10-year-old California boy, drawing two more life sentences; in that case, after weeks of expert testimony, the court ruled him mentally competent.

After Duncan declined to appeal his death sentence and represented himself in court at his Idaho sentencing trial in 2008, his standby attorneys filed an appeal for him against his will. Duncan now says he’s changed his mind and wants to appeal.

However, in court filings, federal prosecutors noted, “Whether the defendant now wishes to appeal, and whether he was incompetent at the time he waived his right to appeal, are separate issues. Only the second issue is before the Court.”

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sent Duncan’s case back to Lodge’s court because Lodge didn’t earlier hold a hearing in open court on whether or not Duncan was mentally competent. He did, however, order two extensive competency evaluations, both of which concluded that Duncan was competent; neither was made public.


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