Despite testimony this week in an Idaho courtroom linking confessed killer Joseph Edward Duncan III to the 1996 abduction and slayings of two Seattle girls, it's unlikely he will be charged in the case any time soon.

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Despite testimony this week in an Idaho courtroom linking confessed killer Joseph Edward Duncan III to the 1996 abduction and slayings of two Seattle girls, it’s unlikely he will be charged in the case any time soon.

Government prosecutors are trying to convince jurors in Boise that Duncan has a lifelong pattern of violence and should be executed instead of sentenced to life in prison for the abduction of two northern Idaho children and the slaying of one of them in 2005.

Duncan, representing himself in court, has the option of offering mitigating evidence for the jury to consider.

Much of the government’s case has focused on the slayings of Carmen Cubias, 9, and her half sister Sammiejo White, 11, who were abducted from Seattle in July 1996. The girls’ remains were found in an empty field in Bothell in February 1998.

The FBI has said that Duncan confessed to the slayings shortly after he was arrested for the 2005 slaying of Dylan Groene and the abduction of Dylan and his sister, Shasta Groene, from their Idaho home.

King County sheriff’s spokesman John Urquhart said Tuesday that Duncan remains a person of interest in the slayings of Cubias and White, but he doubts local authorities will ever have an opportunity to question him.

Even if they did, he said it is unlikely he would confess to local law enforcement.

“It’s an open and active investigation and a very important case,” Urquhart said. “He remains a person of interest in the case and a strong person at that. He hasn’t confessed to us; he has confessed to the FBI.”

The Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the girls’ deaths, has known for some time that Duncan reportedly confessed to the slayings, but has said such a confession is not enough to win a criminal case.

Urquhart has said Duncan did seem to have knowledge of the crime “but he could have got that from a cellmate,” he said.

Urquhart has also said that there has been no physical evidence linking Duncan to the Seattle sisters.

Cubias and White were last seen at the Crest Motel on Aurora Avenue North late on July 6, 1996, hoping to collect enough spare change to buy dinner at a nearby Taco Time.

During the Boise hearing, retired Bothell police Detective Dennis Nizzi testified that the girls’ skeletal remains were found in an empty field in Bothell in the same neighborhood where Duncan worked.

The bones were so damaged by decomposition and work done in the field to prepare it for development that Kathy Taylor, a forensic anthropologist with the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, told jurors she could list their cause of death only as “homicidal violence of undetermined origin.”

Joseph Ruan, a former roommate of Duncan’s, testified that their home was a few blocks from the Taco Time restaurant in Seattle where Cubias and White were last seen.

Duncan scoffed at the effort to find the missing children after learning his roommate had helped distribute fliers about them, Ruan said.

“He said, ‘Look at those two little whores. They’re dressed like gangbangers. … What are you worried for?’ ” Ruan said.

Duncan pleaded guilty last year to 10 federal charges related to the kidnapping and torture of Dylan Groene and his then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, and to the boy’s murder.

Three of those counts carry a potential death penalty.

Duncan previously pleaded guilty in state court to murdering 13-year-old Slade Groene; the children’s mother, Brenda Groene; and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, at their home east of Coeur d’Alene.

Shasta Groene was rescued when Duncan was arrested in July 2005.

Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Sullivan contributed to this report.