Why state chose not to commit violent molester
Despite earlier findings that Joseph Edward Duncan III was a "sexual psychopath" with sadistic tendencies, a state psychologist in 2000...
Seattle Times staff reporters
Despite earlier findings that Joseph Edward Duncan III was a "sexual psychopath" with sadistic tendencies, a state psychologist in 2000 determined that he was not a violent predator who could be held indefinitely at a sex-offender treatment center on McNeil Island.
Duncan, convicted of raping a 14-year-old Tacoma boy in 1980, once claimed that he had also sexually assaulted as many as 13 boys before age 17, and that he was haunted by violent sexual fantasies. Over his years in prison, however, he recanted many of those statements.
That left the state's End of Sentence Review Committee — which reviews sex offenders coming out of prison for possible civil commitment — with a 20-year-old crime on which to base its determination, said committee Chairwoman Victoria Roberts.
"And that was insufficient to conclude that he was a violent sexual predator," she said.
Duncan, 42, was arrested Saturday at a Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, diner with 8-year-old Shasta Groene, who is believed to be the sole survivor of an attack in which her mother, older brother and mother's boyfriend were bound and bludgeoned to death in their home outside Coeur d'Alene in May. Shasta's 9-year-old brother, Dylan, is missing, but authorities believe that human remains found in Montana are his.
Duncan has been charged with two counts of kidnapping in connection with Dylan and Shasta, and authorities in Idaho said yesterday that he is the sole suspect in the homicides. Police, in court documents, say the two children were repeatedly molested.
Years of alarm
For years, psychologists and therapists have viewed Duncan with alarm. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for raping and torturing the 14-year-old Tacoma boy, who was sodomized, bound, threatened with a stolen gun, then beaten and burned with a cigarette. After his arrest, Duncan told officials he had raped as many as 13 other young boys.
"This needs to stop here. People like this should not be out in public," Steve Groene, Shasta's father, said at a news conference yesterday.
Lansing Haynes, chief criminal prosecutor for Kootenai County, said warrants were out for Duncan's arrest in several jurisdictions at the time he allegedly abducted Shasta and Dylan Groene. It was unclear to Haynes why Duncan remained free despite extensive concerns about his tendencies.
"I'm sure there's going to be a lot of questions about that in the next few days," said Haynes.
Washington state boasts one of the most stringent laws controlling sex offenders in the country. Right now, 227 so-called "sexually violent predators" are being held involuntarily for treatment at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island.
In order to commit someone to the center, however, officials must find that it is "more likely than not" that the offender will commit a sexually predatory act.
Roberts explained that a close review of Duncan's case in 2000 was unable to reach that conclusion, mostly because Duncan repeatedly changed his stories over the years.
It's easy to now second-guess that decision, but the psychologists who make those recommendations are very skilled, said Sarah Sappington, head of the state Attorney General's sexually violent-predator unit.
"It's also complicated by the fact he was young and some of the tools used to analyze these cases are not available to [assess] juveniles," she said.
Duncan's stories began changing soon after his conviction. He claimed he made up a "fanciful prior sex life in order to satisfy the beliefs of the treatment staff " at Western State Hospital, where he was treated for two years in the early 1980s, according to a parole-board report.
Removed from program
He washed out of that program after admitting that he had sneaked off the hospital grounds, armed with an extension cord, and stalked possible rape victims.
"His preoccupation with deviant sexual fantasies of one kind or another date back to the age of 12," wrote a therapist who recommended that Duncan be removed from the program and sent to prison in 1982. "Our staff believes that Mr. Duncan is a danger to the well-being of others."
"Mr. Duncan continues to conform to the statutory definition of a sexual psychopath," the report said.
Ten years later, he was still being viewed with alarm.
"He is an untreated sex offender who has a very terrible history," according to a 1992 parole-board report. "He has a psychological evaluation which continues to rate him as a high risk."
The next year the board noted he had been diagnosed "with some sexual sadism," and had asked a sponsor at a sex-offender halfway house to falsify paperwork to change his conviction from rape to assault.
In 1994, however, Duncan was granted parole to live at a Seattle halfway house for sex offenders. Although an evaluation rated his chance of rehabilitation as "poor" and Duncan had resisted sex-offender treatment, the board was swayed by a psychologist's finding that he had found a way to keep his "predatory impulses in check."
Duncan was ordered to get counseling, abstain from drugs and alcohol and have no contact with children.
He remained on parole for nearly three years, until April, 1997. He had one "minimal" contact with a child, smoked marijuana and had fled parole to move to Kansas City but was not convicted of another crime, according to a parole-board report.
The board ordered Duncan back to prison for the remainder of his sentence and noted his ability to manipulate the system and individuals.
"Mr. Duncan has a history of charming, exploiting and using others for his own purposes," the board found.
Duncan was released in 2000 and moved to Fargo, N.D., the hometown of a doctor he had met while on parole and who had become a supporter and sponsor. More than 300 residents turned up at a notification hearing after Duncan registered as a sex offender in the community.
Accused in Minnesota
Last July, he was accused of molesting a 6-year-old boy in a playground in Becker County, Minn. He was released on $15,000 bond in April by a judge who has since said he could not recall if he knew that Duncan was a registered Level III sex offender.
While in Fargo, Duncan started a blog where he railed against the penal system and the persecution of sex offenders. He complained that he was an innocent who had made a sexually naive mistake while a teenager. But his writings contained darker themes, as well.
On April 29, Duncan wrote that he was suicidal and "wrestling with demons."
"I'm afraid, very afraid," he wrote. "If they win then a lot of people will be badly hurt, and they've had their way before, so I know what they can do."
On May 11, Duncan wrote: "I am scared, alone, and confused and my reaction is to strike out toward the perceived source of my misery, society. My intent is to harm society as much as I can, then die."
Five days later, the Groene family was found bludgeoned to death in their home.
Information from The Associated Press is contained in this report.
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