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Duncan will enter plea today

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

COEUR d’ALENE – With the number of child slayings in which he is considered a suspect increased to six, registered sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III will enter a plea today to charges that he murdered three members of a local family.

Authorities contend Duncan killed the three in their home near Coeur d’Alene in mid-May so he could kidnap and molest Shasta and Dylan Groene.

Duncan, 42, was arrested early on July 2 as he was eating with 8-year-old Shasta at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alelne. The body of Dylan, 9, was found a few days later in Montana.

First District Judge Fred Gibler has ruled that no cameras or electronic devices will be allowed in the courtroom inside the Kootenai County Jail. It will be the first time Duncan has appeared in public since his arrest; earlier court appearances were made via video.

Duncan will enter a plea for a trial that is expected sometime next year, sheriff’s Capt. Ben Wolfinger said Monday. Authorities say they expect intense interest in the horrific case, which has drawn worldwide attention.

Duncan is charged with killing Shasta’s mother, Brenda Groene; Brenda Groene’s boyfriend, Mark McKenzie; and her 13-year-old son, Slade. Authorities contend Duncan stalked the home for days, then entered the night of May 15-16, tied up the three victims and beat them to death with a hammer. The three counts of murder and three counts of kidnapping he faces in the attack all carry a potential death penalty.

Authorities contend he abducted Shasta and Dylan from the home and held them captive for seven weeks at a primitive campsite in Montana. He allegedly molested the children repeatedly and at some point killed Dylan.

While it is the Associated Press’ policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assault in most cases, the search for Shasta and her brother was so heavily publicized that their names are widely known.

Federal prosecutors plan to charge Duncan with kidnapping the two children and killing Dylan after the state case is resolved, said Jean McNeil, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Boise. Federal law is clearer and better-suited to those charges because Duncan allegedly took the children across a state line – into Montana.

Shortly after his arrest, Duncan spoke with authorities about the death of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Riverside County, Calif. Authorities there determined in early August that Duncan is linked by a fingerprint to the site where Anthony was slain in 1997. The boy had been taken by a man using a ruse about a lost cat.

Duncan also has discussed the 1996 deaths of two Seattle-area girls, Sammiejo White, 11, and her sister, Carmen Cubias, 9. King County officials have said that no physical evidence links Duncan to the girls’ deaths.

Last week, police in Oak Harbor, Wash., said they are investigating the possibility of a Duncan connection to the 1996 abduction-slaying of Deborah Palmer, 7, who disappeared on the two-block walk from her home to Oak Harbor Elementary School.

McNeil said she is not aware of any other cases in which Duncan is considered a suspect. She said he no longer is talking to law enforcement officers after his public defender demanded that his client not be approached for more interviews.

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