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News >  Idaho

9th Circuit dismisses Duncan’s appeal of death sentence

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected claims from attorneys for multiple murderer Joseph Duncan that the killer was incompetent to waive appeals of his death sentence, and dismissed the appeal that defense attorneys filed on his behalf. The attorneys still could seek an en banc rehearing from the 9th Circuit or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the ruling is a significant step in the case of Duncan, who faces the death penalty three times over for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy, Dylan Groene. “They upheld our arguments,” said Rafael Gonzalez, first assistant U.S. Attorney for Idaho. “We’re very satisfied with the court’s ruling.” Duncan, 52, is on death row at a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. He pleaded guilty to all charges after his murderous attack on the Groene family at their North Idaho home, in which he killed three family members before kidnapping the two youngest children, one of whom he later also killed. Only the youngest daughter, then 8, survived. He has received multiple life sentences for his crimes, in addition to the triple death sentence. At his federal death penalty sentencing trial in 2008, Duncan dismissed his attorneys and insisted on representing himself. On Nov. 15, 2008, he wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge saying, “This is to inform the court that if any appeal is initiated on my behalf, it is done contrary to my wishes.” His standby defense attorneys maintained he wasn’t mentally competent to waive his appeal, and filed an appeal to the 9th Circuit on his behalf, against his wishes. Two years later, in 2010, Duncan said he’d changed his mind about appealing, based on his mother’s wishes; his defense attorneys have pressed his case since then. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled that Judge Lodge correctly determined, after a lengthy competency hearing in open court, that Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal. And they ruled that it was too late to change his mind two years later, and dismissed the appeal. “For the victims, it’s a long road,” Gonzalez said. “But we just keep taking it step by step to ensure that justice is done.” U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson, who was traveling on Friday, personally argued the case to the 9th Circuit on March 17. “Competent defendants can waive their right to appeal, even in a capital case,” she told the appeals court in San Francisco. The speedy ruling, just 10 days later, shows the judges agreed.
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