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Joseph Duncan case -- Idaho jury will decide whether he gets the death penalty

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Detroit Lakes Online
Joseph Duncan case -- Idaho jury will decide whether he gets the death penalty
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Convicted sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan III told a federal judge in December that he will continue to accept responsibility for his heinous actions "to the death."


Today, 300 potential jurors in Idaho will receive questionnaires to help lawyers determine if they will decide whether to put the former Fargo man to death.

Duncan, 45, faces a possible execution for three of the 10 felony charges he pleaded guilty to five months ago involving the May 2005 kidnapping Shasta and Dylan Groene. He abducted the two Idaho children for sex after he slaughtered their family.

After being rescued, Shasta Groene told investigators that Duncan accidentally shot the 9-year-old Dylan, according to court documents.

Three of the federal charges - kidnapping resulting in death, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death and using a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence resulting in death - carry a possible death sentence.

If Duncan does not receive the death penalty from a federal jury, state prosecutors have said they will pursue the death penalty for six state charges Duncan pleaded guilty to last October.

Through a plea deal, Duncan has received life sentences on three of the charges, but a judge has deferred sentencing him on three murder charges until after the federal case.

"Basically we've guaranteed (Duncan) is going to get the death penalty. Either the feds are going to give him the death penalty, or I am," prosecutor Bill Douglas said after Duncan accepted the deal last October. Douglas is the prosecuting attorney for Kootenai County, Idaho, where Duncan pleaded guilty to the state charges.

Brenda Groene - the mother of Shasta and Dylan, her fiance Mark McKenzie and her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, were bound and bludgeoned to death with a hammer.

The gruesome discovery was made by a neighbor stopping by the Groene residence on May 16, 2005, to pay Slade for mowing his grass. Blood smeared on the door of the home was later determined to have been from 13-year-old Slade, court documents say.

Duncan was on the run from child molestation charges involving two boys, ages 6 and 8, in Becker County in May 2005 when he spotted the youngest Groene children playing outside their home in swimsuits, according to court documents.

He had posted $15,000 bail with the help of a Fargo businessman but missed a court appearance. A warrant was issued for his arrest but Duncan wouldn't be spotted again until July 2, 2005.

Duncan had moved to Fargo five years earlier at a local doctor's invitation and attended North Dakota State University.

Fargo police held a public meeting for Duncan, who was listed as a high-risk sex offender and had spent most of his adult life in prison.

About 2 a.m. on July 2, 2005, Duncan was eating with Shasta, then 8, at a Denny's in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, when their waitress recognized the girl.

He told authorities he was bringing her back to her father. Authorities later found her brother's body at a Montana campsite.

Shortly after being rescued - which was about seven weeks after she was snatched - Shasta Groene told investigators Duncan accidentally shot her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, in the chest and then fired another round into his head while at a Montana campsite, according to court documents.

Duncan has admitted to sexually abusing the children for weeks before killing Dylan. The Washington native is also a suspect in the deaths of two children in Washington and one in California.

Attorneys, who are prohibited from discussing the case because of a gag order, have agreed Shasta will not have to testify during the penalty phase.

Potential jurors in the case will be split into groups for individual questioning after questionnaires are completed.

The first group of 30 jurors will be questioned individually on Wednesday. Jurors may be excused for cause or by peremptory challenges from the attorneys.

The process will continue until the pool is whittled down to 15 jurors, including three alternates.

Duncan Timeline

- 1980: Joseph Edward Duncan III is convicted of raping a 14-year-old boy in Washington and serves 14 years in state institutions.

- 1994: Prison officials grant Duncan parole but order him back three years later for violating conditions of release. Duncan eludes authorities for six months before he is captured.

- 2000: Duncan is released from prison and moves to Fargo at the invitation of a local doctor who met him in San Francisco. Duncan studies computer science at North Dakota State University.

- Spring 2005: Authorities in Becker County, Minn., charge Duncan with molesting a 6-year-old boy and attempting to molest an 8-year-old boy in Detroit Lakes the summer before. At an April hearing, Duncan posts $15,000 bail using money he received from a Fargo businessman. An arrest warrant is issued about a month later after he fails to stay in touch with his probation officer.

- July 2005: Duncan is arrested in a Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in the company of 8-year-old Shasta Groene.

- Oct. 2006: Duncan pleads guilty in Idaho state court to three counts of murder and kidnapping in the deaths of Shasta Groene's mother, Brenda Groene, and brother, Slade Groene, as well as Mark McKenzie, Brenda Groene's fiance. A life sentence without parole is assured. The state has the option of seeking the death penalty if it is not secured in the federal case that is pending.

- Jan. 2007: Federal officials unseal an indictment charging Duncan with the kidnapping and killing of Shasta Groene's 9-year-old brother, Dylan. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty. They also say Duncan has confessed to the deaths of three other children in Washington state and California.

- Dec. 2007: Duncan pleads guilty to 10 federal charges, including three that include a potential death sentence.

Source: Forum research