BOISE, Idaho – Convicted child-killer Joseph Edward Duncan III may represent himself in his death penalty hearing, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge made the ruling after repeatedly questioning Duncan about his wishes, and asking him if he had any reservations about representing himself.
"I'm not a perfect person and I make mistakes sometime," Duncan told the judge. "My only reservation is that I'm a human being."
A jury at the death penalty hearing will decide whether Duncan is sentenced to death or will spend life in prison without parole on three of 10 federal charges related to the 2005 kidnapping of two northern Idaho children and the slaying of one of them. Jury selection is to resume on Aug. 6, Lodge said.
In May, Lodge suspended the sentencing after Duncan asked for permission to dump his team of lawyers and serve as his own attorney. Lodge ordered a series of mental health evaluations, then ruled last week that Duncan is at least mentally competent to take part in the sentencing phase of the case.
"Based upon your representation to the court, your education and the finding that I made last week, you do have a 6th Amendment right to represent yourself," Lodge said Monday. "You're competent to make that decision."
Duncan's defense team — Judy Clarke, Mark Larranaga and Thomas Monaghan — will remain in court as Duncan's "standby lawyers," Lodge said. They will serve as a legal resource for Duncan but will not be allowed to represent him as long as he is representing himself.
Lodge also warned Duncan that he'd get no special help from the bench and would be held to the same strict court rules as everyone else. He also said he would order Clarke, Larranaga and Monaghan to resume their roles as Duncan's attorneys if Duncan cannot adequately represent himself.
Earlier this year, Duncan said he wanted to be his own lawyer because his attorneys couldn't ethically represent his "ideologies," though he gave no clue as to what those ideologies were. When Lodge warned him again that he wouldn't be able to argue any ideologies unless they are backed by evidence and properly presented to the court, Duncan tried to reassure him.
"I just want to try and represent what I believe," Duncan said. "But I want to do that within the rules or the law and I want to try to do that without causing any problems."
Duncan, a convicted pedophile from Tacoma, Wash., pleaded guilty in December to the federal charges related to the kidnapping of Shasta Groene, then 8, and her brother Dylan, 9. The children were taken from their Coeur d'Alene home in May 2005 after Duncan fatally bludgeoned the children's mother, Brenda Groene, their 13-year-old brother Slade, and the mother's fiance, Mark McKenzie.
Both children were sexually abused before Duncan shot and killed Dylan at a campsite in western Montana. Shasta was rescued on July 2, 2005, when a waitress spotted Duncan and the girl in a Coeur d'Alene restaurant.
Duncan earlier pleaded guilty in state court to murdering McKenzie and Slade and Brenda Groene. Sentencing on those state counts is not at issue here.