COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho – Convicted sex offender Joseph Edward Duncan (search) bragged to his 8-year-old captive during more than six weeks on the run, telling her how he used a shotgun and hammer to kill her family after staking out their home for days, court documents say.
Little Shasta Groene (search) remembered it all and has been providing authorities with details that are building a strong case against Duncan, charged Tuesday with three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree kidnapping.
"He told her he was out driving around looking for children to kidnap," Kootenai County (search) sheriff's Detective Brad Maskell testified during a probable cause hearing. "He glanced over at the Wolf Lodge property and saw her playing in the yard with her brother and wearing a bathing suit. At that point he chose them as possible kidnap victims."
U.S. Attorney Tom Moss of Boise said Tuesday that Duncan will face federal kidnapping charges because he is accused of taking Shasta and her 9-year-old brother Dylan across a state line into Montana and killing Dylan. The federal prosecution will follow the state murder case, Moss said.
Duncan, 42, who could face the death penalty, was expected to make a preliminary appearance Wednesday in state court on the murder and kidnapping charges. Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas said he would ask that Duncan continue to be held without bail.
Duncan's mother, Lillian, who lives in Tacoma, told The Seattle Times for Wednesday's edition that she had spoken briefly with her son after his arrest. She said he told her he loved her and that he showed remorse.
"I don't know what he has done or what he hasn't done," Mrs. Duncan said. "I still love him, he's my son."
Meanwhile, Shasta's family is trying to make sure the child does not see news coverage of the crimes. Darlene Torres, Shasta's grandmother, said the girl was "devastated" Tuesday morning when she was changing the television channel and spotted a picture of Duncan.
"She saw this guy and said `There's Jet!"' Torres said, referring to a nickname used by Duncan. "It was really disturbing."
All the state charges relate to the deaths of the children's mother Brenda Groene, 40, brother Slade Groene, 13, and Mark McKenzie, 37, Brenda's boyfriend, at the family's home near here.
Public defender John Adams declined comment. "We try to do our litigation in the courtroom," he said.
The gruesome new details were contained in the minutes and a recording of a closed-door probable cause hearing Tuesday before 1st District Magistrate Judge Scott Wayman.
The recording of Maskell's testimony indicated that, despite her youth and weeks of captivity, Shasta has been an unusually observant witness.
The little girl has accurately described how her family members were bound with zip-ties and duct tape, where they were in the house, that Duncan wore dark gloves and had a shotgun and night vision goggles. She recalled the brand name of the hammer used to bludgeon the victims, which she noted after Duncan displayed the hammer to her.
"He explained to her that that item was what he used to kill Mark, and Brenda and Slade," Maskell said. "He also described striking Slade with the shotgun."
The shotgun was found inside Duncan's vehicle.
"Shasta was very specific that Mr. Duncan is the only person responsible for these acts," Maskell added.
It also became clear that Shasta witnessed some horrible things, even after she and Dylan were bound and carried out of the house by Duncan early on the morning of May 16.
At one point, Slade Groene stumbled out of the house into the darkness, bleeding profusely from the head, and walked around in a daze while the two children yelled for him to untie them. Slade was unable to respond and his body was found in the house.
Shasta also reported hearing yells of pain from McKenzie, apparently as he was beaten to death with the hammer.
During weeks of captivity at a remote campsite in the Lolo National Forest in western Montana, Duncan told Shasta that he cased the family's home for two to three days, using night-vision goggles to look in the windows and study the occupants' habits and the layout.
The goggles and McKenzie's wallet were found in Duncan's vehicle, Maskell said.
The girl told detectives her ordeal began when her mother woke her and brought her into the living room. There she said she saw Duncan wearing dark gloves and holding the gun.
Few other details about Duncan's weeks on the run with Shasta and Dylan were released, including whether Shasta witnessed the death of Dylan. Previous court documents have indicated Duncan began sexually abusing the children almost immediately.
Shasta was rescued early on the morning of July 2, when employees and customers at the Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene recognized her and called police. A waitress stalled Duncan until officers could arrive.
Duncan was charged last week with two state counts of kidnapping. Those counts will be dismissed to make way for the federal charges, Douglas said.
Under federal law, a kidnapping that results in a death is punishable by death, said spokeswoman Jean McNeil of the U.S. attorney's office in Boise.
Duncan, a native of Tacoma, Wash., was convicted there in 1980 of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint. He was released from prison in 2000 and moved to Fargo, N.D., to attend North Dakota State University.
He was released on $15,000 bail earlier this year in Becker County, Minn., after being charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy. Police in Fargo had been looking for him since he failed to check in with a probation agent there in May.
Police said he got the $15,000 from a Fargo businessman, Joe Crary, 51, who said he became acquainted with Duncan on bicycle trails around Fargo and believed his claims of innocence