Judge rules killer in N. Idaho was competent to waive appeal

Man convicted in 2005 attack understood his legal options, judge said

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BOISE, Idaho — A man convicted of murder and kidnapping in a 2005 attack on a northern Idaho family was mentally competent when he waived the right to appeal his death sentence, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Joseph Edward Duncan III was convicted of killing several members of a Coeur d'Alene family before snatching their two young children.

Duncan took the children to the wilderness in Montana where he tortured and abused them for weeks, prosecutors said. He killed Dylan Groene, 9, and returned with 8-year-old Shasta Groene to Idaho, where he was captured, according to court records.

During the sentencing phase of his case in federal court, Duncan represented himself. After he received the death penalty, he waived his right to appeal.

Duncan later changed his mind, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to hold a hearing to see whether he was competent to make such a decision.

After weeks of testimony by experts and relatives and spending months reviewing more than 8,000 pages of documents and hours of recordings, Lodge concluded that Duncan, despite any mental health problems, was sound enough to understand the choices he was facing at the time.

"When one examines the entire record the only conclusion is that the defendant was competent to waive his appeal," Lodge wrote. "Any symptoms of a mental disease or defect that were exhibited by the defendant did not impact his ability to understand his legal position ... or prevent him from making a rational choice among his options."

Duncan's attorney during the hearing, Michael Burt, did not immediately return a telephone message left at his office Friday.