Death Sentence on Hold for Convicted Murderer

     (CN) – The 9th Circuit has called for a sentencing review of a man on death row for murdering a 9-year-old boy whom he kidnapped and sexually abused, along with the boy’s 8-year-old sister, after murdering their older brother, mother and the mother’s boyfriend in 2005.

     Joseph Duncan III terrorized and murdered Brenda Groene; her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie; and Groene’s eldest son, Slade, at their Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, home on May 16, 2005. He then took 9-year-old Dylan and 8-year-old Shasta to a campsite in Montana’s Lolo National Forest where he sexually abused them for almost seven weeks. Authorities caught up to Duncan in July when he brought Shasta to a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene, a week after killing Dylan.
     Duncan pleaded guilty to state criminal charges for several counts of murder and kidnapping. Though the court sentenced Duncan to consecutive life sentences for kidnapping, it deferred sentencing on the murder charges to await the outcome of the federal case.
     The District of Idaho ultimately sentenced Duncan to death after he pleaded guilty to 10 counts of kidnapping, rape, abuse and murder.
     A federal judge had agreed to let Duncan waive counsel for the penalty phase after six months of psychiatric testing in prison established that Duncan was competent to represent himself. The judge refused, however, to schedule a competency hearing.
     Duncan also waived his right to appeal, but the 9th Circuit agreed to review the case anyway at the request of his former attorneys.
     After establishing that it has jurisdiction, a three-judge panel sitting in Seattle ruled Monday that the District Court should have held a hearing before concluding that Duncan was competent to represent himself and waive his right to appeal.
     “Congress has set out specific procedures for determining a criminal defendant’s mental competence,” Judge Susan Graber wrote for the court. “Those procedures apply here because Defendant’s lawyers moved for a competency hearing before the trial. The statute compels the district court to hold a competency hearing, either on defense counsel’s motion or on its own motion, ‘if there is reasonable cause to believe that the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.’ We must decide whether the evidence established “reasonable cause” to believe that Defendant lacked the competence required to represent himself and to waive his right to an appeal. We think that it did and, thus, that the district court erred when it concluded otherwise.”
     On remand, the district court will hold hearings to determine Duncan’s competency.
     Duncan, whose criminal history dates to when he was 15 years old, was also convicted of the murder of Anthony Martinez in California and is suspected of killing two girls in Seattle while on parole from 1994 to 1997.
     If the court ultimately vacates the death penalty on remand, Idaho can impose the sentence since it deferred that phase on the three murder convictions in state court.

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