Judge rules killer was competent to waive appeal

BOISE, Idaho — A man convicted of murder and kidnapping in a 2005 attack on a northern Idaho family was mentally competent when he waived the right to appeal his death sentence, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Joseph Edward Duncan III was convicted of killing several members of a Coeur d’Alene family before snatching their two young children.

Duncan took the children to the wilderness in Montana where he tortured and abused them for weeks, prosecutors said. He killed Dylan Groene, 9, and returned with 8-year-old Shasta Groene to Idaho, where he was captured, according to court records.

During sentencing phase of his case in federal court, Duncan represented himself. After he received the death penalty, he waived his right to appeal.

Duncan later changed his mind, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a hearing to see whether he was competent to make such a decision.

After weeks of testimony by experts and relatives and spending months reviewing more than 8,000 pages of documents and hours of recordings, Lodge concluded that Duncan, despite any mental health problems, was sound enough to understand the choices he was facing at the time.

“When one examines the entire record the only conclusion is that the defendant was competent to waive his appeal,” Lodge wrote. “Any symptoms of a mental disease or defect that were exhibited by the defendant did not impact his ability to understand his legal position … or prevent him from making a rational choice among his options.”

Duncan’s attorney during the hearing, Michael Burt, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his San Francisco office Friday.

Burt, a veteran lawyer in federal competency cases, argued that Duncan, was mentally unstable, delusional and suffering from split personalities.

He urged Lodge to look at Duncan’s thinking patterns, saying that by doing so he would find that Duncan was in no frame of mind to make rational choices.

Prosecutors say they expect Duncan’s legal team to appeal the decision.

Duncan was convicted in state court of killing Slade and Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie at their northern Idaho home in spring 2005, slayings that cleared the way for him to kidnap the children.

Prosecutors said he shot Dylan Groene in the torso and head and burned his body before returning with the girl to Coeur d’Alene.

Duncan was also convicted of murder in the 1997 death of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, of Riverside, Cailf., in a crime he confessed after the Idaho convictions.

Duncan, a convicted pedophile originally from Tacoma, Wash., has also told investigators that he killed 11-year-old Sammiejo White and her 9-year-old half-sister, Carmen Cubias, near Seattle in 1996. He has never been charged in their deaths.

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