Nearly four years ago in Coure de lene Idaho, a paroled and out on bail convicted child rapist decided to stalk and kill Brenda Groene, her fiancee Mark mckenzie and 13 year old son Slade Groene in a brutal home invasion committed for the sole purpose of kidnapping 8 yr old shasta and 9 year old Dylan for the purpose of sadistic pedophilia.
After murdering the three family members, Joseph Duncan kidnapped the two small children and brought them over state lines deep into the lolo forest where he moved from campground to campgrouns torturing and molesting the children or 7 weeks, culminating in the shooting murder of little Dylan Groene-in front of his sister Shasta.
Approximately one week after killing and disposing of little Dylans body (bits of bones were all that remained for criminologists after Duncan purportedly burned the childs body "all day and night" in a bonfire at one of the campsites) Duncan inexplicably returned to Cour de lene, the town of the original murders and shasta's home, with little Shasta alive , in tow.
He tolld shasta that he was returning her to her father because she quote" taught him how to love" and he would later turn himself in to police. However, he has since admitted to manipulating and lying to shasta throughout her entire ordeal as the situation called for-in order to gain "her compliance" tand thus we have no way of knowing what Mr Duncan actually had planned Next for Shasta or himself .
Fortunately, thanks to the sharp eyes of Dennys waitress Amber dean, whatever his plans were they became moot shasta was recognized as the two ate a meal at a local Dennys restaurant, in the wee hours of the morning-they quickly called 911- and Duncan was arrested without incident and shasta began to tell her tale of terror to police.
The murder trial for Brenda, Slade and Mark Mckenzie took two years to begin, and ended 6 months later when Duncan agreed to plead guilty to murdering the two adults and 13 year old Slade by bludgeoning them all to death with a claw hammer, this after tying them hand and foot in their family home. For this plea deal He recieved three life sentences with the stipulation that if he did not receive the death penalthy in the sepearte trial for the kidnappings of shasta and murder of Dylan, that he may still be sentenced to death for the first 3 murders- Legal wrangling that very few of us understood.
The second trial for the kidnappings, sexual assaults and subseqent murder of little Dylan was once again delayed incessently by the defense, and a seemingly intimidated judge allowed it, citing as reason his reluctance to inadvertantly providing ammunition for a later mistrial, thereby relenting to each and every stalling tactic.
The stalling was in effect rendered moot when Duncan pled guilty to all of the charges against him seemingly out of nowhere, which led us all to breathe a collective sigh of relief that at least little Shasta now 10 would not be forced to live through the ordeal of testifying against her tormentor in a long and traumatizing trial. However this still left the sentencing portion of what was a death penalty case, and this finally began last week after another long delay, this one caused when Duncan decided to fire his court appointed attorneys and represent himself.
The Judge, again treading carefully lest a legal mistep were to be found cause for re-0trying the whole case-something that he expressed on more than one occasion. insisted upon a battery of phsychiatric tests to determine if josph duncan was capable of representing himself in a court of law.
7 months later he was finally approved by a myriad of psychiatrists as mentally competent to represent himself in the sentencing trial. The judge ordered duncans attorneys to act as back up counsel for duncan, providing advice and direction if needed. Another delay was side-stepped when both attorneys tried to refuse the judges order-they were in effect admonished by the judge who said that he simply would not tolerate any more delays in this proceeding, and the attorneys would be found in contempt if they tried to bail out now.
I have been following this case since it first happened.
I wept when I read about the brutal murders of shasta's mom, her step-dad to be and 13 year old brother Slade; I joined the thousands of people accross the country praying for the safe return of Shasta and Dylan, despite the abysmal outlook for just such a miracle, considering the clearly psychopathic M.O of the person that abducted them.
Then, almost 2 months later, Shasta was found...alive- although little Dylan was feared dead and a terrible 3 or 4 long days later, forensics validated the tragic news. I remember watching the video footage of little shasta walking into that convienence store, so clearly within that monsters pyschological grip, yet with her little arms folded protectively across herself, telling it all.
That image still haunts the recesses of my mind.
I also can see the heart wrenching photo of Shasta, at the hospital, smiling a shy smile and hugging a little doll, when she was first reunited with her dad, Steve Groene, a man who I'd previously seen speaking on many news channels, pleading with whomever had his children to Please return them safely..please.
This courageous little girl has somehow managed to heal enough to return to school, her old gradeschool in fact, a choice that she insisted upon when given the option of attending a different school, so that she might avoid having to explain her ordeal to curious friends and classmates.
Shasta now 11, is reportedly faring better than anyone could have ever expected. She has developed a love of horses and now rides regularly. She also enjoys riding on the back of her dads custom harley, a bike that was recently made especially for them, with a custom back seat and her brother Slade and Dylans names painted on the side.
It has not been an easy time for Shasta -She had had to deal with life challenges beyond the already mind boggling crimes of which she was made victim; For a time she and her dad experienced near homelessness and life threatening illness. Steve groene, diagnosed with throat cancer just months after shasta's return, had fallen upon hard times due to his inability to work and mounting medical costs from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Ultimately he lost his voicebox to the disease but managed to survive, seemingly out of sheer determination to not leave Shasta parentless. particularly throughout the upcoming trial which would surely requite shastas expert testimony.\
. Fortunately, the people of Cour de lene rose to the situation and threw in together to build a new house for Shasta and her ailing dad. The home is in Shasta's name and she will inherit it fully paid for, upon her 21st birthday. Considering that the people of cour de lene and the surrounding area are mostly hard working blue collar folks, this makes thier genorousity even more meaningful, as they will surely do without themselves in the process of helping this family.
I can recall reading about how shasta's expert recollection of the details of her kidnapping helped aid the police, FBI and prosecutors in making thier case strong against Jospeh Duncan.
I prayed that she would somehow be spared having to face this despicable man in a court room in order for him to be convicted and given the sentence that he so richly deserved.
It looks like my prayers and others have been answered.
Let us hope that the final results of this trial give at least a modicum of justice to Shasta, Dylan, Slade and the entire Groene family...
child-killer may get death jury says - CNN.com