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Eye On Boise

Duncan on federal Death Row, but fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom

Child-killer Joseph Duncan is sitting on federal Death Row in Terre Haute, Ind., but his fate still rests in an Idaho courtroom. Eight years after Duncan kidnapped, tortured and murdered a 9-year-old North Idaho boy after a murderous attack on his family, the long process that could lead to Duncan’s execution inched forward this past week, when federal prosecutors filed arguments summing up a six-week mental competency hearing that brought Duncan back to Idaho from Jan. 8 to Feb. 15. “He had the capacity to appreciate his position and to make a rational decision to abandon further litigation,” they wrote.

Duncan’s already been sentenced to death three times over for the 2005 murder of Dylan Groene. He also received nine life sentences for his bloody attack on the boy’s family at their Wolf Lodge Bay home, which left Dylan’s mother, older brother and mother’s fiancé dead; only Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. Duncan pleaded guilty to all charges and waived his right to appeal his death sentence. But his former defense attorneys filed an appeal for him, contending he wasn’t mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal – or when he dismissed them and chose to represent himself in his capital sentencing trial.

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ordered a full hearing on that issue in U.S. District Court in Idaho, where U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge had ruled Duncan competent after two extensive psychological evaluations in 2008, but hadn’t held a hearing on the matter in open court. Now he has, and both sides are filing their post-hearing arguments; you can read my full story here at

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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