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Thursday, March 30, 2006 - Page updated at 12:52 PM

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Shasta Groene discusses family

The Associated Press

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Shasta Groene went back to the house where her family was murdered last year, to help celebrate what would have been the 14th birthday of her brother Slade.

Shasta, now 9, is the sole survivor of the carnage at her family's home outside Coeur d'Alene last May.

"I'm happy to be here and happy to be doing this," Shasta told KREM-TV of Spokane in a brief interview broadcast Wednesday night. It was her first public comment since she was rescued last July 2 at a Denny's restaurant in Coeur d'Alene after seven weeks of captivity. "Slade's my brother and I want to do this for him."

Family members gathered at the home and released balloons for Slade.

Shasta said she wrote a note to Slade, to her mother, Brenda, 40, her 10-year-old brother, Dylan, and to Mark McKenzie, 37, her mother's boyfriend.

"Happy Birthday, and tell Mom and Dylan and Mark I love them and stuff," Shasta said. "Hopefully we'll get to see them again."

During the interview with the television station, Shasta made no reference to Joseph Edward Duncan III, who has been charged with binding and bludgeoning to death Brenda and Slade Groene and McKenzie at the home, so he could kidnap Shasta and Dylan for sex.

Duncan, 42, allegedly took the younger children to a primitive campsite in Montana for seven weeks. Dylan was killed at some point. Shasta was recognized by staff and customers at the Denny's and police arrested Duncan.

He is to be tried Oct. 16 for the killings, and is being held without bail in the Kootenai County Jail. If convicted, he faces the death penalty. The federal government plans to file charges after the state case in the kidnapping of the children and the slaying of Dylan.

Shasta said the modest home along Interstate 90 is special to her because her family spent so much time there.

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"All of the kids pretty much grew up here," she told the television interviewer.

"Our main bed time was usually at 8:30," Shasta said. "If it was not a school night, she would let us stay up longer."

Slade "was a very nice boy and we don't want to forget about him," Shasta said. "We should pray for him every night."

"Every holiday I would want him to be involved in the holidays, even though he is not here," Shasta said. "That doesn't mean he doesn't exist."

"In Christmas, I would buy him a Christmas present," she said. "He was a really good brother to me and really sweet to people and we all love him."

The Groene family has been protective of Shasta since her rescue, and had released only a few photographs of her. But with father Steve at her side, Shasta seemed poised and relaxed during her brief comments to the camera.

Law enforcement officers have praised Shasta for her recall of the events at the home and later during her abduction, saying she had provided valuable evidence against Duncan. Prosecutors intend to call her as a witness during Duncan's trial.

Public defender John Adams is trying to negotiate a plea bargain that would spare Duncan from the death penalty, and has warned that Shasta may have to testify against Duncan for the next 20 years if a deal is not reached.

Adams said today that prosecutors continue to insist on the death penalty, making negotiations fruitless.

"It's unethical for a lawyer to plead his client to the death penalty," Adams said. "As long as that's there, the defense can't do anything."

Take the death penalty off the table and "I'm sure the case will be over," Adams added.

Prosecutor Bill Douglas has said he will not drop capital punishment for Duncan.

Duncan, a Level III sex offender from Fargo, N.D., told authorities he was driving by the Groene home when he saw Shasta and Dylan playing in the yard in their bathing suits.

He decided to kidnap the children, and allegedly stalked the family for several days before using night vision goggles to enter their home. He allegedly used zip ties and duct tape to bind McKenzie and Brenda and Slade Groene, carried the two smaller children out into the yard, and then beat the three to death with a hammer.

The crime shocked the region and a massive search led by the FBI was fruitless until Duncan and Shasta were spotted at the restaurant seven weeks later.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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