BOISE, Idaho — A federal judge has upheld two of three death penalties for a man convicted in a gruesome 2005 child kidnapping and murder case, and put a third death sentence on hold for now.
Joseph Edward Duncan III was sentenced to death after an incredibly violent spate of crimes in which he stalked two small children, broken into their Coeur d'Alene, Idaho home, and killed three people there before abducting the 8- and 9-year-old.
Duncan then took the kids deep into Montana's Lolo National Forest, where he tortured and raped them for weeks. He eventually killed 9-year-old Dylan Groene and later returned with the 8-year-old girl to Idaho, where he was captured.
It was at least his second, and possibly his fourth, child murder. Duncan was later convicted of the 1997 abduction and murder of a California boy, and federal prosecutors said Duncan confessed to killing two young half-sisters in Seattle in 1996.
Duncan challenged his sentence in the Idaho case on multiple fronts, saying in part that his attorneys were ineffective, that graphic video evidence used during his sentencing hearing unfairly prejudiced the jury against him, and that the judge failed to appreciate how "irrational and deluded" Duncan was when he waived his right to appeal.
But Lodge said the court took care to ensure that Duncan was competent to waive his rights.
"Duncan competently, clearly, knowingly, intelligently, voluntarily and unequivocally elected to waive his right to appeal," Lodge noted in the ruling. "Duncan understood and knew the pros and cons of his decision and that the decision was his to make."
Some of the evidence used in the federal case included videos and photographs Duncan made that showed him torturing and abusing the children he kidnapped. Lodge said that graphic evidence — though it was particularly horrific and difficult to watch — had a "clear and overwhelming" value to the jurors as they considered whether or not Duncan should be put to death for his crimes.
"The videos capture the very crimes which Duncan has been charged and plead guilty to; unmistakably showing Duncan's heinous, cruel, and depraved manner in committing the criminal acts against his victims and the circumstances surrounding those acts," Lodge wrote.
Ultimately, the jury found Duncan should be put to death for three of the 10 federal charges of which he was convicted: kidnapping resulting in death, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death, and using a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death.
Lodge upheld the death penalty for the kidnapping and sexual exploitation charges, but said his ruling on the death penalty for using a firearm during a crime of violence would have to wait.
Both the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court are expected to issue rulings soon in separate and unrelated cases that also involve the firearm-related charge. Those rulings could determine whether that federal crime statute is unconstitutionally vague, as Duncan claims in his appeal.
Regardless of the outcome on the firearm-related charge, the imposition of the death sentences for the kidnapping and sexual exploitation related charges remain in full effect, Lodge said.