BOISE – A mother sobbed on the witness stand, telling of her two murdered daughters.
Glum federal jurors listened to her testimony, but several looked away from her and across the room at Joseph Duncan, who told the FBI he kidnapped the two girls on a Seattle street and killed them with a crowbar. While Duncan sat at the defense table, looking down, several male jurors watched the bearded, orange-shirted, wild-haired defendant with narrowed eyes.
The jury of nine men and three women will decide whether Duncan should die for the kidnap, torture and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene of Coeur d’Alene in 2005. On Monday, Duncan’s federal sentencing trial moved into its final phase, as prosecutors began presenting evidence about three other child murders in the past 12 years – none of them yet tried in court – to prove Duncan’s “future dangerousness.”
Duncan killed 9-year-old Carmen Cubias and 11-year-old Sammiejo White, both of Seattle, by hitting them in the head with a crowbar in 1996, FBI Special Agent Mike Sotka told the court. He abducted and killed 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Riverside County, Calif., in 1997, striking the child in the head with a large rock before leaving him naked and wounded in the desert to die.
Duncan provided details about those crimes in a July 19, 2005, interview with authorities at the Kootenai County Jail, Sotka told the court. The conversation lasted for more than three hours.
Then-8-year-old Shasta Groene, whom Duncan had kidnapped along with Dylan after killing three family members, told authorities of Duncan’s ties to the child murders in Washington and California. Shasta, the only survivor of Duncan’s attack on her family, said Duncan told her about the crimes; information found on Duncan’s laptop computer backed up the story. The FBI then sought a full set of Duncan’s fingerprints to compare to a partial thumbprint found at the Martinez murder scene; it was a match.
When two FBI agents came to the Kootenai County Jail to take those fingerprints, Duncan told them about the crimes, Sotka told the court.
“He told me that these two girls were his ‘first revenge,’ and that it occurred in 1996,” Sotka told the court. “His revenge for going to jail the first time. … I think his actual quote was ‘sheer unadulterated revenge.’ ”
Sotka said Duncan told him his abduction and murder of Anthony Martinez a year later was “revenge against society again for sending him back to jail for a probation violation.” Duncan complained that by going back to jail for a month, “he lost a good job,” Sotka testified.
Duncan fought against the three murders being described to jurors, asking his standby attorneys to intervene. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled in December that evidence of future dangerousness must be limited to the prison setting – because the jury’s only choices for Duncan’s sentence are life in prison without the possibility of release, or death.
“It is not relevant to the prison setting context,” attorney Mark Larranaga said, noting that Duncan wouldn’t have access to weapons or children in prison. “It is undoubtedly prejudicial.” But Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson argued that the additional murders show a “continuing pattern of violence” that’s of concern even in a prison setting.
Lodge sided with Olson. The stories of the three murders, he ruled, don’t just show Duncan is a danger to children. “The evidence … in this case is highly relevant in that it corroborates the government’s argument that it shows a pattern of violence throughout Mr. Duncan’s adult life,” Lodge said. Duncan’s “choice of weapons” has included anything at hand with which he could administer “blunt force,” the judge said, and that could occur in prison.
He noted that Duncan said he was on a rampage against society. “Mr. Duncan’s own words show that he calculates and plans for his opportunities to get even,” the judge said.
Duncan, acting as his own attorney, objected, saying one of the judge’s statements was “inaccurate.” “I’ve never said that I am on a vendetta,” Duncan declared. “I was, but I’m no longer – I just wanted that clarified.” The judge said his objection was noted.
Margaret Delaney, mother of Carmen and Sammiejo, took the witness stand, but had difficulty talking about her two daughters between tears and sobs. The two girls left the motel room where Delaney and her five children were spending the night to visit a Taco Time across the street and never came back. Delaney, who arrived back at the motel room with food shortly after the girls left, sent their 15-year-old brother to search for them. When he failed, she searched for an hour before calling police.
Their skeletal remains weren’t found until a year and a half later.
Ernesto Medina, father of Anthony Martinez, also shared his story. His two sons, Anthony and Mark, were playing in a neighbor’s backyard when, from inside his apartment, he heard children screaming, “A man’s got Tony!”
The father ran outside and saw 6-year-old Mark limping toward the apartment, one shoe on and one shoe off, saying the same thing. He ran inside and called 911, grabbed his keys and began searching for his son. Checking back at home often, he continued to search for three days and nights, to no avail. Anthony’s body was found 15 days later.
Mark, now 17, took the stand and told how a tall, thin, Caucasian man in a white car pulled into the alley behind a neighbor’s house where he was playing with Anthony and friends.
“He approached the fence and called us forward,” he told the court. “We came and he showed us a picture of a cat. … He offered us each a dollar if we helped him look for his cat.”
Three boys agreed to hunt for the cat. After searching in the alley, the kids went back to Duncan and told him they couldn’t find the cat.
“He gave us each a dollar,” Medina told the court. “The next thing I remember is seeing a knife being drawn. … The next thing I remember is he had my brother … the knife to his head. … He was being taken away and put in the car. That was the last time I ever saw him.”
The boys’ father said Duncan apparently tried to grab Mark first, and Anthony got between them and the younger child fell down, losing a shoe. Duncan then grabbed Anthony. That matched the story Duncan told Sotka in 2005, when he said he tried to kidnap a younger child, but when he evaded his grasp, he took the 10-year-old.
Also introduced Monday were an immigration document showing Duncan visited Mexico two days after Anthony’s murder; and a leather-bound journal Duncan left at his Fargo, N.D., apartment in which he made references to the murder and wrote a poem titled “An Ode to the Killer.” In a letter written from prison in 2006, Duncan said he wrote the poem the day after Anthony was murdered.
In a journal entry dated three days after Anthony’s abduction, Duncan wrote, “Now that I have fulfilled my greatest fantasy, I have no reason left to live, except to flesh it out … I have no feelings for my victim, and I never will, but I do have feelings … I love life even more after my fight – with a true monster, after being a first-hand witness to what others are inraged (sic) by merely imagining.”
In another entry, he wrote, “I just realized! The pain is gone! The PAIN IS GONE! Now there is only FEAR!!!! I like the fear better.”
The sentencing trial continues today with more evidence of the earlier crimes, to be followed by evidence about the effect Dylan’s murder had on Shasta and other members of Dylan’s family.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.