REBECCA BOONE Associated Press Writer BOISE, Idaho
More than 300 people summoned from 16 different Idaho counties gathered in a Boise convention center Monday to start the arduous process of jury selection for the death penalty hearing of Joseph Edward Duncan III. The 12 jurors and three alternates selected will be charged with deciding whether Duncan will spend life in prison without parole or be executed for the kidnapping, sexual abuse and fatal shooting of 8-year-old Dylan Groene in 2005. It's the largest federal jury selection process ever held in Idaho, and believed to be the first federal jury called in the state to determine whether a defendant gets life in prison or the death penalty, said U.S. District Court Executive Cameron Burke said. Of the 327 people called, 325 attended the proceeding in the Boise Centre on the Grove, he said. "It's a good reflection of our citizens that 99.9 percent of people showed up," Burke said. The jury candidates filled out questionnaires Monday. Questioning of individuals to whittle down the pool is expected to begin today. U. S. D i s t r i c t Judge Edward Lodge decided to use the convention center as a temporary federal courthouse because the federal court building in Boise doesn't have a room large enough to comfortably hold all the prospective jurors. Duncan, wearing a bright orange jumpsuit and sitting between his attorneys in the front of the room, kept his eyes focused on the table in front of him for much of the time. He was brought to the building under tight security, with U.S. deputy marshals, armed officers and a police dog guarding the defendant as he entered the building. It's not surprising that so many potential jurors were called for screening, said Stephanos Bibas, a professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former federal prosecutor. The case has had extensive publicity, and federal death penalty cases are very rare, prompting judges to be especially careful about the proceedings, he said. Before federal prosecutors can seek the death penalty, the case must go through a rigorous screening process and the U. S. attorney general must sign off on the effort. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales OK'd the request to seek Duncan's execution. "St ingy might be too strong a word, but the U.S. attorney's office doesn't liberally authorize death penalty prosecutions. They try to screen it so you only have the worst of the worst cases. The most common ones would be where you're talking about multiple murders, murders of lawenforcement officers, assassination, terrorism or murder for hire," Bibas said. "So we don't have tons of experience about what they're like when they make it to this stage." The sentencing hearing will have two parts. In the first, prosecutors will attempt to prove that the severity of the crime warrants a death sentence. In the second half, prosecutors will likely argue that the only way to protect society is to execute Duncan, while defense attorneys are expected to contend that Duncan's own childhood was so troubled that he cannot be held entirely responsible for his actions and should be sentenced to life in prison. Duncan, a convicted pedophile originally from Tacome, Wash., first saw Shasta Groene, then 8, and her brother Dylan, 9, playing outside their Coeur d'Alene home on a warm spring day in 2005. He began stalking the family, and one night in mid-May 2005, he entered the house, and bound and killed three members of the family with a claw hammer: Brenda Groene, her son Slade Groene, and her fiance Mark McKenzie. Duncan drove away with Shasta and Dylan. For the next several weeks, Duncan sexually abused and tortured the children, in some cases videotaping the acts. He eventually shot Dylan with a sawed-off shotgun, leaving the boy's body at a campsite in the Lolo National Forest in Montana. Duncan took Shasta back to Coeur d'Alene, where they stopped to eat at a Denny's restaurant around 2 a. m. on July 2, 2005. A waitress recognized Shasta and called police. Duncan was charged with the three Coeur d'Alene murders in Idaho state court, and in 2006 pleaded guilty to three counts each of first-degree murder and first-degree kidnapping. He agreed to cooperate with investigators in his pending federal case. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the kidnappings. But the sentence on the murder counts was deferred until the federal case is closed. If federal prosecutors fail to win a death sentence, Duncan will be returned to Kootenai County, where a jury will be impaneled for a death penalty hearing, Prosecutor Bi l l Douglas has said. Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal charges, three of which could bring the death penalty: kidnapping resulting in death, sexual exploitation of a child resulting in death, and using a firearm in a crime of violence resulting in death. The other charges are kidnapping, two counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, being a felon in possession of a firearm, transportation of a stolen firearm, possession of an unregistered firearm and transportation of a stolen vehicle. Even though Duncan's guilt has already been established, everyone involved should prepare themselves for a long case, Bibas said. "This is going to drag on either for weeks or months, I don't know but it will drag on," he said.