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Victim’s brother files tort claim

Associated Press

COEUR D’ALENE – The brother of a man who was killed with his girlfriend and her son has filed a $500,000 tort claim accusing a Minnesota judge and prosecutor of negligence in the earlier release of Joseph E. Duncan III.

Steve McKenzie, the brother of Mark Edward McKenzie, also accused Becker County, Minn., officials who dealt with Duncan after he was arrested and accused of molesting two boys in March of negligently failing to supervise Duncan after his release on $15,000 bail.

Duncan, 42, a convicted sex offender, lived in nearby Fargo, N.D., at the time.

Tort claims are required by law to be submitted to a government entity for consideration prior to filing a lawsuit in court.

If the government entity rejects the tort claim notice or fails to respond within a certain period of time, the claimants can proceed to litigation.

Duncan has pleaded innocent to three counts of first-degree murder for the bludgeoning deaths of McKenzie, his girlfriend, Brenda Kay Groene, 40, and her 13-year-old son, Slade Vincent Groene, in May at their home near Coeur d’Alene.

Prosecutors, who are seeking the death penalty, have written that Duncan killed the three so he could kidnap Shasta Kay Groene, 8, and her brother, Dylan James Groene, 9, for sexual purposes.

U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Moss of Boise has said federal prosecutors will wait until the state case is resolved before charging Duncan with kidnapping Shasta and Dylan, killing Dylan and possibly other crimes.

Dylan’s remains were found at a campsite in western Montana.

Duncan was captured July 2 in a Coeur d’Alene restaurant with Shasta, who has been returned to her father.

“My clients are trying to send a message that state government agencies need to be extra vigilant in these types of cases,” said Russell Van Camp of Spokane, a lawyer representing the estates of Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie.

Becker County officials would not comment, saying they hadn’t seen the claim.

Steven Vincent Groene, father of Shasta, Dylan and Slade, is not involved in the claim.

Duncan was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Washington state for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy in 1980.

He was released in 1996 before probation violations put him back into prison until he got out again in 2000.

Charged in March with molesting two boys in Detroit Lakes, Minn., he was released on $15,000 bail by Judge Thomas Schroeder.

Becker County Assistant Prosecutor Michael Fritz had sought $25,000 bail, an amount Prosecutor Joe Evans later said was low considering Duncan’s history of violent sexual attacks on children.

“He was banned from one of Becker County’s parks and they had all the information on him,” Van Camp said. “They still set an extremely low bail.”

A transcript shows Schroeder was told during the hearing that Duncan was a convicted sex offender. Still, no one present said specifically he was a Level 3 offender, the type considered most likely to reoffend, and Schroeder has said he didn’t know then that Duncan was a Level 3 offender.

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