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News >  Idaho

Victims’ estates sue over Duncan’s release

Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press

The estates of two people who prosecutors allege were killed by Joseph Edward Duncan III sued Becker County, Minn., on Monday for releasing the registered sex offender a few weeks before Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie were slain in their Idaho home.

Authorities contend Duncan killed the couple so he could kidnap Shasta Groene, 8, and Dylan Groene, 9, to abuse sexually.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Idaho, contends Becker County was negligent in releasing Duncan on just $15,000 bail on a child molestation charge and was negligent in not monitoring him closely.

The lawsuit also seeks to prevent Duncan from profiting from his alleged crimes through book or movie deals.

“This horrible, horrible thing happens again and again in our mobile society,” said Russell Van Camp, who is representing the estates of Groene and McKenzie, and McKenzie’s brother, Steve McKenzie, who lives in Washington.

John Iverson, of Bloomington, Minn., who is representing Becker County, said he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment. But he was surprised the civil lawsuit was filed in Idaho.

He said the lawsuit should have been filed in Becker County or in federal court in Minnesota.

But the lawsuit said Idaho was the proper venue because all the parties involved lived in different states, and the slayings occurred in Idaho.

Duncan, a Tacoma native who spent much of his adult life in prison for raping a boy, had lived in Fargo, N.D., since his release from prison in 2000.

According to the lawsuit, Duncan was arrested and later charged with child molestation in the case of a 6-year-old boy in Detroit Lakes, Minn. At a hearing on April 5 Duncan was released when a friend put up the $15,000 bail set by Becker County Judge Thomas Schroeder.

“It was foreseeable that Duncan would commit additional criminal acts once released,” the lawsuit said.

He checked in twice with a probation officer. Then on April 15 he rented a Jeep and jumped bail.

Duncan is charged in Kootenai County with three counts of first-degree murder. He is accused of breaking into the home shared by Mark McKenzie and Brenda Groene and three of her children on May 16. Mark McKenzie, Brenda Groene and 13-year-old Slade Groene were bound and bludgeoned to death, and the two smaller children disappeared.

Seven weeks later, Duncan walked into a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene with 8-year-old Shasta Groene, who was recognized by restaurant patrons and staff.

Duncan was arrested.

Dylan Groene’s remains were found shortly after the arrest in a Montana forest, and federal officials plan to charge Duncan with crimes against the children in federal court in Idaho when the state case concludes.

News of Duncan’s past as a violent sexual predator produced a nationwide outcry, including pending legislation in Idaho and Washington to toughen laws regarding sex offenders.

Much anger was also directed at Schroeder, who set the bail amount, and Becker County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Fritz. He had requested $25,000 bail, an amount his boss later said was low considering Duncan’s history of violent sexual attacks on children.

A transcript showed Schroeder was told during the hearing that Duncan was a convicted sex offender, but he was not told that he was a Level 3 offender, those considered most likely to commit more crimes. Schroeder said he didn’t know Duncan was a Level 3 offender.

The lawsuit does not seek a specific amount of damages.

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