BOISE, Idaho Convicted child killer Joseph Edward Duncan III told a federal judge Friday that he wants to represent himself at his death sentencing hearing because his attorneys can't ethically represent his ideology.
Duncan has asked U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge to let him represent himself as a jury considers whether he should be put to death for the abduction and slaying of 9-year-old Dylan Groene in 2005.
Lodge told Duncan he couldn't make the decision without being certain that Duncan was competent to waive his right to professional representation. He ordered attorneys on both sides to come up with three names of psychiatrists or psychologists in the Boise region who can evaluate Duncan's competency and make a report to the court.
Duncan pleaded guilty in December to 10 federal crimes stemming from the 2005 kidnapping of Dylan and his then 8-year-old sister, Shasta Groene. Both were taken from their Coeur d'Alene home in May 2005 and sexually abused before Duncan shot and killed Dylan at a campsite in western Montana.
Duncan previously pleaded guilty in Idaho state court to killing the children's mother, Brenda Groene; her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie, and 13-year-old Slade Groene at the family home.
Jury selection for the federal sentencing phase began Monday, but Duncan told Lodge he wouldn't expect a switch to delay the trial.
Duncan will continue to be represented by his team of attorneys until Lodge rules on Duncan's request.
"I don't have an issue with counsel personally," Duncan said in court. "It's ideological. I don't believe that they can ethically represent my ideologies."
Duncan did not elaborate on what those ideologies are.
"You definitely do have a 6th Amendment constitutional right to represent yourself" but there are a number of concerns that have to be addressed, Lodge said. "I'm not aware your counsel has filed anything that shows there has been a mental evaluation."
Still, Lodge said, Duncan's demeanor and prior statements in both federal and state court strongly suggest he is capable of making the decision to represent himself. In a simpler case, Lodge said he might be able to rule immediately.
"It does appear to the court that you've appeared to be rational and your behavior has been appropriate," Lodge said. "Insanity's certainly not an issue."
Because Duncan faces the possibility of capital punishment and because preliminary mental evaluations imply the "possibility of some other mental issues," Lodge said, a professional mental evaluation is needed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson told the court that the government was concerned that a wrong decision by the judge at this point could result in an automatic reversal on appeal.
"This is a matter of tremendous concern to the government ... We're concerned that there could be a structural error that would end us right back where we are right now," Olson said.
If Duncan represents himself, it could put him in the position to cross-examine Shasta Groene, the sole survivor of the murders and abduction.
It is not yet clear if either side expects to call Shasta as a witness.