A longtime sex offender was sentenced to death Wednesday for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old northern Idaho boy...
BOISE — A longtime sex offender was sentenced to death Wednesday for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old northern Idaho boy after federal jurors who watched video of some of the brutality deliberated just three hours.
The jurors’ recommendation was binding on U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge, who thanked them, dismissed them and then sentenced Joseph Edward Duncan III, who is originally from Tacoma.
Relatives of the victim, Dylan Groene, remained somber as the jury’s decision was announced. Duncan murdered Dylan’s mother, older brother and his mother’s fiance to kidnap him and his younger sister, who was sexually abused along with her brother but survived.
Duncan showed no reaction other than smiling as the verdict was passed to the judge.
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“We’re happy with the verdict, but it’s a shame — this should have been limited to one death,” said Steven Groene, the father of the children. “He should have had the courage and the guts to kill himself before killing anyone else.”
Duncan took Dylan and the boy’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, to a remote western Montana campsite where he raped, tortured and threatened them before shooting Dylan in the head and burning his body. Jurors viewed horrifying video Duncan made of him sexually abusing and torturing Dylan until the boy lost consciousness.
“This defendant is dangerous. He is a predator who takes pride in his work,” prosecutor Traci Whelan said. “He earned this day. His actions … call out for the death penalty.”
Duncan acted as his own attorney but had offered no response to prosecutors’ closing argument.
“I have no argument,” he told the court.
With an eye toward kidnapping the two children, Duncan stalked their family. In 2005 he entered their Coeur d’Alene-area home and used a hammer to kill their 13-year-old brother, Slade Groene, his mother, Brenda Groene, and her fiance, Mark McKenzie.
Duncan was arrested and Shasta rescued weeks after the kidnappings when a waitress at a Denny’s in Coeur d’Alene called police after recognizing the two as they ate.
Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges involving the kidnappings and the murder of Dylan. He pleaded guilty to the other three murders in state court, where he also could be sentenced to death.
In closing arguments, Whelan reminded the jury of Duncan’s lifelong “pattern of violence,” including a conviction for raping a boy at gunpoint in 1980. Duncan has told investigators he killed two half-sisters from Seattle in 1996, and he is charged with killing a young boy in Riverside County, Calif., in 1997. King County prosecutors have no plans to charge Duncan in the Seattle case, saying such a confession is not enough to win a criminal case.
King County sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart has said Duncan did seem to have knowledge of the crime “but he could have got that from a cellmate,” he said.
Duncan may next be taken to Riverside County to stand trial in the death of Anthony Martinez.
It’s hard to tell whether the end of the federal case will offer any comfort to Shasta, Groene said.
“I can’t speak for Shasta, I can’t get inside her head,” he said. “Possibly now we’ll have to be dragged through a court proceeding in California. If they go ahead with the prosecution, it would be such a waste of taxpayer money because he’ll never spend a day in a California prison.”
Darlene Torres, Brenda Groene’s mother, said she was glad the case was over.
“Justice has been served,” Torres said. “It’s been very painful.”
She said that when she saw Duncan in court, “I seen nothing but an evil, empty, coldhearted shell.”
“The jury speaks the mind of the community,” U.S. Attorney Tom Moss said. “By the verdict today, they have given voice to the victims.”
After the verdict, the jurors were whisked away from the federal courthouse in two white vans so they could avoid the phalanx of media covering the hearing.
Information from The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.