Wednesday, October 04, 2006


Feds to seek death for Duncan Posted: Tuesday, Oct 03, 2006 - 11:09:02 pm PDT By DAVE TURNER Staff writer Shasta's lawyer says death case in Idaho not needed now COEUR d'ALENE -- The lawyer representing Shasta Groene said there's no reason for the 9-year-old to testify in a state court now that federal prosecutors have been given the go-ahead to seek the death penalty against Joseph Edward Duncan III. John Sahlin, a Coeur d'Alene lawyer appointed by the federal courts, said Tuesday the state's case against Duncan could end short of a death sentence. "With the U.S. Attorney General's announcement, it is now my hope that there need be only one trial of Joseph Duncan," said Sahlin.Earlier, Idaho U.S. Attorney Tom Moss announced his office had been given permission by the Justice Department to seek the death penalty against Duncan. Duncan's federal defender, Roger Pevin, could not be reached for comment. Jury selection for the month-long state trial for Duncan is scheduled to begin Oct. 16 in 1st District Court. Duncan's lawyer, Kootenai County Public Defender John Adams, would not comment about whether the latest move would change the complexion of the state case. Adams previously said his client was willing to plead guilty, so long as he could avoid a death sentence. Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said the fact the U.S. Attorney's Office can now seek death in the event of a federal court conviction changes nothing. "We're still going ahead," Douglas said Monday night. Douglas has continually stressed that the two cases -- state and federal -- involve two distinct and different elements. Douglas is seeking the death penalty if Duncan is convicted of the bludgeoning death of Brenda Kay Matthews Groene, 40, her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, and boyfriend Mark Edward McKenzie, 37, at their Frontage Road home near Wolf Lodge Bay on May 16, 2005. Kootenai County Sheriff Rocky Watson said he was also in favor of the trial going ahead. "The citizens of Kootenai County were also Duncan's victims," he said. "The trial should be here." He said if convicted, Duncan deserves to die. "This way, you will have two shots at death because Duncan is evil," Watson said Tuesday. Meanwhile, the federal case begins where the Wolf Lodge killings end. Authorities said Shasta Groene, then 8, and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, were taken by Duncan from their Wolf Lodge home to a remote campsites in the Lolo National Forest in Montana. The federal charges will likely stem from the kidnapping of the children, their transportation across state lines and the gunshot killing of Dylan, whose remains were found days after Shasta was rescued from Duncan at a Coeur d'Alene restaurant on July 2, 2005. Moss said Duncan would also likely face child pornography charges, as well as sexual abuse charges in the case. And after the federal case, Duncan still could face first-degree murder charges in the death of a California boy a decade ago. Ingrid Wyatt, a spokeswoman for the Riverside County District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors are waiting until Duncan's cases in Idaho are finished before filing charges in the death of 10-year-old Anthony Michael Martinez. Duncan has confessed to bashing the boy's head in with a rock in April 1997, then leaving his nude, sexually abused body in the rural Indio desert. "We're still planning on reviewing the case when our turn comes up," Wyatt said. Shasta's father, Steve Groene, who is recuperating from a larynectomy in a Seattle hospital, has supported the plea deal to save his daughter from having to testify. His support of that deal has met with opposition from other family members. McKenzie's mother, Lee Wood, said after meeting with Douglas on Monday, family members still support Douglas' decision to go ahead with the first trial. "We thought about it and talked to Bill Douglas yesterday," Wood said Tuesday. "I don't care if (Duncan) is given the death penalty in the state or the federal court, but I still want the state's trial to go ahead. "What if he gets a life sentence in federal court," she said. "This way we have a double chance of a death penalty." Brenda Groene's mother, Darlene Torres, agreed. "There is nothing that's going to bring the family back," Torres said. "It's between the state and federal government at this point." But County Commissioner Rick Currie said aside from the cost, holding two trials is superfluous and could put many people through unnecessary pain. "I am disappointed in the decision to go ahead" with the state trial, Currie said. "It's going to cost a lot of money and it's going to be redundant." He said the trial will cost about $1 million. Currie won't say what reasons Douglas might have for continuing with the state's case. "I have my opinion why (Douglas wants to go ahead) and as much as I want to say it, I can't." Currie said it's doubtful that Idaho's death row for Duncan would be much different than if he were sentenced to life without parole. "The state of Idaho cannot kill him," Currie said. "The case will go through 20 years of appeals." He noted the case of Donald Paradis, who was freed after 20 years on death row when an appeals court determined the state erred during the prosecution. Once released, the county settled a lawsuit short of trial for $900,000. "Do I want to see this guy die? Yes," Currie said. "I think everybody does. And the feds will do a good job." In the past, Adams had sought an arrangement for his client to plead guilty to the Idaho charges, so long as Duncan received life without parole. Coeur d'Alene defense lawyer Mike Palmer, who is not connected to the Duncan case, said he didn't know how Duncan would benefit from any plea deal which would still allow other jurisdictions to charge him. Palmer said generally with plea bargains, that means settling for a lesser sentence in one jurisdiction, no matter what happens elsewhere. "It's the client's decision," Palmer said. "In this case, if there is any offer to accept, ultimately it's up to Duncan." The next step is for federal prosecutors to take their evidence to a grand jury and seek an indictment. No time frame for that empanelment was immediately released.

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