Child killer back in court for competency hearing

BOISE, Idaho — Attorneys for convicted murderer Joseph Duncan say their client has a delusional belief system that rendered him incompetent to waive his right to appeal a federal death sentence.

Duncan, who was sentenced to death in 2008 after pleading guilty to kidnapping and torturing two northern Idaho children before killing one of them in western Montana, was back in Boise’s U.S. District Court Tuesday for a competency hearing.

The hearing, which was ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is intended to determine whether Duncan was mentally competent when he waived his right to appeal his sentence in 2008.

Defense attorney Michael Burt told U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge that experts will testify that Duncan has a medical condition called brain impairment, which may have caused psychosis and other mental problems. They say that for years, Duncan has held a delusional belief system based on an epiphany that he should not participate in his own defense.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Whatcott told the judge that the evidence will show that multiple experts and three judges in three different courtrooms all have found Duncan to be competent, and that Duncan himself has consistently demonstrated an ability to make rational decisions.

Duncan has been convicted of five different murders in Idaho, Montana and California. But this competency hearing focuses only on the crimes he committed against young Dylan Groene and his 8-year-old sister, Shasta, in 2005.

The hearing is expected to last at least two weeks.

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