Judge orders mental test before killer can defend himself


BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- A confessed child killer must be evaluated for mental competency before he can act as his own lawyer in death penalty proceedings, a federal judge ruled Monday.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge indicated he's inclined to grant Joseph Edward Duncan III's request to defend himself, but he'll review the psychologist's report first.

Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges in the 2005 kidnapping of two children, Dylan and Shasta Groene of Coeur d'Alene, and the 9-year-old boy's killing at a Montana campsite. Three of those crimes can carry the death penalty.

Duncan earlier pleaded guilty in state court to murdering three other members of the children's family but the penalty for those crimes is not at issue here.

When he asked the judge to allow him to defend himself, Duncan said he liked his attorneys but knew they couldn't ethically represent his "ideology." Duncan didn't elaborate on what he meant.

The evaluation will be available to the court and attorneys but sealed from public view, the judge said.

Duncan's defense lawyers said a mental evaluation should include observation over a length of time, and a quick, local evaluation could miss important facts.

"the defense investigation raises questions that the court may deem require substantial exploration before allowing Mr. Duncan to jettison his attorneys in this capital case," the defense team wrote in a brief filed Monday.

The crime spree began in 2005 when Duncan, a convicted pedophile originally from Tacoma, Wash., first saw the children playing outside their Coeur d'Alene home. He stalked the family before entering the house in mid-May 2005, killing 13-year-old Slade Groene, his mother Brenda Groene and her fiance Mark McKenzie. Duncan drove away with the two children, sexually abusing and torturing them for weeks in the remote Montana wilderness before killing Dylan and leaving his body behind.

If Duncan is allowed to represent himself at his sentencing hearing, it may mean more delays. Some questioning of potential jurors began last week. It also raises the possibility Duncan could cross-examine witnesses - perhaps including Shasta Groene, now 11.

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