Joseph Edward Duncan, III, who was sentenced to death in 2008 for the kidnapping and murder of nine-year-old Dylan Groene, died this morning. Duncan had been diagnosed with stage IV brain cancer. Duncan was in custody on death row at Terra Haute Federal Correctional Institution.
According to court records, on May 16, 2005, Duncan murdered the boy’s mother, her boyfriend, and the boy’s 13-year-old brother at their home just outside of Coeur d’Alene.
Duncan kidnapped Dylan and his eight-year-old sister, Shasta, and took them into the Lolo National Forest in Montana, where he tortured both children and murdered Dylan. Shasta was recovered on July 3, 2005, at a Denny’s restaurant in Coeur d’Alene and Duncan was arrested.
Duncan pleaded guilty in state court in 2006 to the murders of the family. His sentencing was stayed pending the federal prosecution for his crimes against the two younger children.
Duncan pleaded guilty to the crimes against the children in December 2007. The jury empaneled for sentencing returned a verdict of death on all three counts for which Duncan was eligible.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Lodge then imposed the death sentence.
“This crime was horrendous and its impact on the families, the community, the jurors, court staff, our litigation team, and law enforcement were far reaching,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rafael M. Gonzalez, Jr. “While his death will not bring back the lives cut so tragically short or remove the indelible memories of his unspeakable acts, perhaps death will now allow space for some degree of healing, peace, and closure.”
According to court records, from the time he was taken into custody in July 2005, Duncan confessed to all of his crimes and repeatedly sought to plead guilty.
Investigators recovered photographic and video evidence of Duncan’s crimes. He also admitted to the murders of other children. He pled guilty in 2011 in a California state court for the 1997 murder of a 10-year-old boy and was sentenced to two life sentences.
Due to the sentences he had already received, Duncan was not prosecuted for the murders of two sisters, 11 years old and nine years old, both of which occurred 1996 in Bothell, Washington, although he described to federal investigators how he committed the crimes.
Following his capital sentencing hearing, Duncan waived his right to appeal and in November 2008 notified Judge Lodge that “if any appeal is initiated on my behalf, it is done contrary to my wishes.”
Judge Lodge again determined that Duncan was competent, this time to waive his right to appeal.
Despite Judge Lodge’s repeated findings, his attorneys appealed to the Ninth Circuit claiming Duncan was not competent to waive his right to appeal. The Ninth Circuit determined that Judge Lodge should have conducted a hearing to explore the issue more fully.
In early 2013, Judge Lodge held a twenty-three-day retrospective competency hearing. In December 2013, he issued a detailed order finding Duncan had been competent to waive his right to appeal.
The Ninth Circuit affirmed Judge Lodge’s finding in 2015 and in 2016, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
In 2017, Duncan’s lawyers filed a motion to set aside his sentence and conviction. That motion was denied by Judge Lodge on March 22, 2019. Duncan’s lawyers had been seeking an appeal of that order at the time of Duncan’s death.