Twelve jurors continued to hear evidence this week in the federal sentencing of Joseph Edward Duncan, who has been convicted of 10 separate crimes in connection to the 2005 kidnappings of Dylan and Shasta Groene from their home near Coeur d'Alene, and 9-year-old Dylan's eventual murder in western Montana.

As of press time, nearly a third of prosecutors' 90 witnesses had been called in the sentencing, which was expected to last up to three weeks. In the meantime, here's a look at where Duncan is headed next.


During sentencing, Duncan is being held at the doubled-fenced Idaho Maximum Security Institute in Kuna, Idaho. In an ordinary case, Duncan -- when his sentence was decided -- would move to a federal maximum-security facility to live out the rest of his sentence, though it's unclear which facility that would be.

Felicia Ponce, with the Bureau of Prisons (which takes possession of prisoners once they've been sentenced in federal court), cites a number of criteria in that decision process, including the seriousness of the offense and any history of escapes and violence. However, she also says the bureau tries to house offenders within 500 miles of their home "so they can maintain ties to their community and their families."

Where the Bureau will locate Duncan's home remains to be seen, however. His last residence was in Fargo, N.D., but he spent much of the 1990s near his mother in the Puget Sound area. There are no maximum-security prisons within 500 miles of Seattle. The nearest is Atwater, near the San Francisco Bay Area.

On the other hand, Ponce says most federal death sentences are carried out at the penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind. If Duncan receives such a sentence, it's likely he would be executed by lethal injection there -- the same place where Timothy McVeigh was put to death.


Like any offender, Duncan has the right to appeal his conviction and sentence -- in this case, to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In the likely scenario that such an appeal would fail, Duncan could petition the United States Supreme Court to hear his case -- a petition the high court has no obligation to grant.

At any rate, the point could be moot, as Duncan hasn't exactly put up a fight, pleading guilty in both federal and state court. Early on in the federal sentencing, Duncan sidelined his lawyers, choosing -- curiously -- to defend himself instead. This week, he asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to "establish a standing 'non-objection' with the court on all evidence submitted [against him], and on all witnesses dismissed," according to the Spokesman-Review.

"I wouldn't expect him to be too vigorous in exercising his appellate rights," says Gonzaga Law School dean Earl Martin, who has been following the case. "All indications show his goal is to receive that death penalty."


Should the federal jury not deliver the death penalty, however, Duncan will be immediately extradited back to Kootenai County to undergo a similar sentencing phase, according to court documents. In October of 2006, Duncan pled guilty to three counts of kidnapping and three counts of murder for tying up and killing Mark McKenzie, Brenda Groene and her son, Slade Groene. Judge Fred Gibler sentenced Duncan to three consecutive life sentences for the kidnappings, but a plea agreement stipulated that sentencing for the murders wait until after sentencing in the federal trial -- to save Kootenai County taxpayers the expenses associated with a death penalty sentencing.

The logic, says Kootenai County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Douglas, was, "Let's let the feds do it on their dime and try him on the crimes for which I had no jurisdiction." A federal conviction, he says, would also limit Duncan's appeal privileges -- specifically his window to file for habeas corpus.

In the unlikely case that an Idaho state jury also failed to deliver the death penalty (the two trials, Douglas wrote in a press statement two years ago, mean Duncan's death is "virtually guaranteed"), chances are Duncan would be remanded back to federal custody. If he is sentenced to death in Kootenai County, he would be sent back to his current home at the Idaho Maximum Security Institute (IMSI), according to officials there. At IMSI, he would live alone in a small cell with one hour of fresh air each day, until -- barring successful appeals -- he would be executed by lethal injection in a single-wide modular on the northern side of the complex.


Whether the fallout of the Groene-McKenzie crimes results in Duncan ending up in Idaho or federal custody, it's possible that he wouldn't stay in either place for long. Duncan is the prime suspect in the 1997 murder of 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, who had been playing with friends in his backyard in Beaumont, Calif., when he was kidnapped by a man in a white car. His body was found more than two weeks later -- nude, bound -- in the desert 70 miles away. The case had long gone cold when news of the Idaho murders and kidnapping broke. Authorities in Riverside County linked Duncan's fingerprint to a partial fingerprint found on duct tape binding Martinez. Duncan has since confessed to the murder.

Riverside County District Attorney Rod Pacheco wants Duncan extradited to Southern California, but unlike Bill Douglas, Pacheco seems intent on pursuing Duncan's execution even if another jurisdiction does, too. "We have filed charges, and we're seeking the death penalty," says Pacheco spokeswoman Ingrid Wyatt. "It doesn't matter [if he's already gotten it]. We're seeking it here."

Wyatt says the extensive cost of pursuing capital punishment will be worthwhile if it provides resolution. "This was one of the biggest, most heinous crimes here. So, cost -- that really doesn't factor in when you consider what happened to the boy and how long the family has waited to get their day in court." Besides, she says, California's court system provides additional funding for capital punishment cases.

In the event that Riverside County delivers a second death penalty, Duncan will likely still return to Idaho or federal custody. In the more rare event that he hasn't already received the death penalty but gets it in California, officials at the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation indicate he would end up at the legendary penitentiary in San Quentin -- home to such notable villains as Scott Peterson and "Night Stalker" Richard Ramirez.


The oldest active filed charges against Duncan belong to Becker County, Minn., where Duncan (who was living in Fargo at the time) allegedly fondled a boy on a playground and attempted to fondle another. It was an arrest warrant for these charges that drove Duncan toward Coeur d'Alene. Officials in Becker County say the warrant is still outstanding but calls about whether they will attempt to extradite Duncan were not returned by press time.

Meanwhile, Duncan has also confessed to the killings of two young girls in the Seattle area in 1996. A spokesman for King County says no charges have yet been filed in relation to that case, but additional evidence could yield charges and a possible extradition.


Though Duncan's future after the federal sentencing could potentially bounce him around from state to state and in and out of courtrooms for years, court watchers say the highest likelihood is that he will be sentenced to death in Boise in the coming weeks. Even if he's not, it is "virtually guaranteed" that Duncan will remain behind bars for the rest of his life. However long that life lasts.

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About The Author

Joel Smith

Joel Smith is the media editor for The Inlander. In that position, he manages and directs and edits all copy for the website, the newspaper and all other special publications. A former staff writer, he has reported on local and state politics, the environment, urban development and culture, Spokane's...