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Federal jury will decide whether convicted child killer Joseph Edward Duncan III should die
Joseph E. Duncan III, left, listens in Kootenai County Sherriff's Department Justice building in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, in this Monday, Oct. 16, 2006, file photo as he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree kidnapping stemming from a brutal triple-murder in May 2005. Public Defender investigator Mark Durant, center, and Kootenai Country Sheriff's Detective Brad Maskell are reflected in a glass panel. On Monday, April 14, 2008, Federal prosecutors will began jury selection to decide if Duncan should face the death penalty. - photo by Associated Press
    BOISE, Idaho — His guilt is beyond question, his crime beyond comprehension. The issue for the jury will be whether Joseph Edward Duncan III deserves to die for kidnapping two young siblings in a bloodbath at their home and whisking them away to the remote wilderness of western Montana, where he tortured and raped them, and then killed the 9-year-old boy.
    Some 350 jury candidates are expected to show up at a convention center downtown on Monday, when attorneys will begin to winnow the pool down to the 12 jurors plus three alternates who will decide Duncan’s fate.
    Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges, three of which could bring the death penalty: kidnapping resulting in death, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death, and using a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in death.
    He had earlier pleaded guilty in state court to kidnapping and murdering three other members of the Groene family in May 2005. Brenda Groene, her fiance, Mark McKenzie, and her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, were bound and bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
    U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge has imposed extraordinary secrecy restrictions, including a gag order on all lawyers and court personnel, possibly hoping to avoid contaminating the jury pool as much as possible. Nearly half of the 375 documents filed in the case remain under seal.
    Even so, finding 15 people who know little about the case — or about how the community has rallied around Shasta Groene, the sole survivor of Duncan’s brutal spree — and can decide impartially is a tall order.
    ‘‘That’s the problem in a small, sparsely populated state like Idaho,’’ said Stephanos Bibas, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former federal prosecutor. ‘‘There’s a huge fear of contaminating the jury because you just don’t get many multiple murder-molestation cases there. So people have likely been hearing about this case endlessly.’’
    Duncan was a convicted pedophile originally from Tacoma, Wash., when he saw Shasta, then 8, and her brother Dylan outside their home in the resort town of Coeur d’Alene. He stalked the family for days before attacking. He drove away with Shasta and Dylan.
    For the next several weeks, Duncan sexually abused and tortured the children, in some cases videotaping the acts. He eventually shot Dylan with a sawed-off shotgun, leaving the boy’s body at a campsite in the Lolo National Forest. Duncan brought Shasta back to Coeur d’Alene, where they stopped to eat at a Denny’s restaurant around 2 a.m. on July 2, 2005. A waitress recognized Shasta and called police.
    Duncan was sentenced in state court to life in prison without parole for the Coeur d’Alene kidnappings. But the sentence on the murder counts was deferred until the federal case is closed.
    If federal prosecutors fail to win a death sentence, Duncan will be returned to Kootenai County, where a jury will be impaneled for a death penalty hearing, prosecutor Bill Douglas has said.
    While prosecutors try to prove that Duncan deserves execution, defense attorneys are expected to try to show that he was the product of a troubled childhood and should be sentenced to life in prison.
    ‘‘A jury will be tempted to see him as a monster, and the last thing the defense wants is for them to think of him as a monster,’’ Bibas said. ‘‘They’ll try to at least put in context what caused him to do this, pointing out if the defendant has a history himself of being abused, beaten or mentally impaired in some way.’’
    Shasta Groene appears to be holding up well, but the endless court case has caused a great deal of stress, said family friend Midge Smock. Shasta, now 11, normally spends every Tuesday night visiting Smock.
    ‘‘Last time I saw her she was really, really happy because they told her she wouldn’t have to testify. I hope they can stick with their promise to keep her from testifying,’’ Smock said.
    Duncan also has been charged in California with the 1997 slaying of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Indio, Calif. Prosecutors also intend to seek the death penalty there. Duncan has denied involvement in that crime, and Shasta’s afraid she’ll have to go to California to testify in that case, Smock said.
    In addition, Duncan is a suspect in the 1996 Seattle-area killings of 9-year-old Carmen Cubias and 11-year-old Sammiejo White.
    Regardless of the outcome of the federal case in Idaho, Smock wonders whether the trauma will ever end for Shasta or her father, Steve Groene.
    ‘‘I think Steve understands that it’s not going to be over, but I don’t know what she comprehends of that,’’ Smock said. ‘‘When she’s mad, she says, ’It’s never going to be over.’’’

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