Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty for Duncan

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty against a convicted sex offender accused of binding and killing three people in a scheme authorities say was designed to enable him to abduct two children for sex.

Prosecutor Bill Douglas made the announcement Tuesday after Joseph Edward Duncan III's (search) arraignment. Not-guilty pleas were entered on Duncan's behalf.

Douglas said he would seek the death penalty on all six charges against Duncan: three counts of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree kidnapping. First District Judge Fred Gibler (search) set a trial date of Jan. 17, 2006.

Clad in red jail overalls, with scruffy hair and a beard, Duncan did not speak during the 30-minute hearing in the Kootenai County Jail (search) courtroom. When Gibler asked for a plea, public defender John Adams said, "We stand silent on that."

The judge entered not-guilty pleas to the charges.

Before the hearing, Douglas said he believes Duncan can get a fair trial in Kootenai County, despite three months of intense publicity about the simultaneous abductions of Shasta Groene, 8, and Dylan Groene, 9, from their home.

Shasta was rescued early July 2 while eating with Duncan at a Denny's restaurant here. Dylan's body was found a few days later in Montana.

Duncan, 42, is charged with killing Shasta and Dylan's mother, Brenda Groene, 40; her boyfriend Mark McKenzie, 37; and her 13-year-old son Slade.

Authorities contend he watched their home along Interstate 90 for days, then entered the night of May 15-16, tied up the three victims — the basis for the three kidnapping charges — and beat them to death with a hammer.

Court documents allege he then held Shasta and her brother for weeks at a campsite in Montana where he molested them and eventually killed the little boy.

Federal charges are expected later in the crimes against the younger children, since they were taken across a state line. Under federal law, a kidnapping that results in a death is punishable by death.

Steve Groene, father of the kidnapped children, was in the courtroom and said the plea didn't surprise him.

"We figured it would be a not-guilty plea," Groene said. "We have all the confidence that prosecutors have a very strong case."

While it is The Associated Press' policy not to identify alleged victims of sexual assault in most cases, the search for Shasta and her brother was so heavily publicized that their names are widely known.

Duncan also is being investigated in the killings of a 10-year-old boy in California in 1997 and three children — ages 7, 9 and 11 — in Washington state in 1996.

Duncan was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Washington for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old Tacoma boy in 1980. Authorities said he was paroled in 1994 and moved into a halfway house.

He was returned to prison in 1997 after testing positive for marijuana use, then was released in 2000. At the time of his July arrest, Duncan was a fugitive charged with molesting a 6-year-old boy in Minnesota.