When Joseph Edward Duncan was at the Ada County Jail during his 2008 death penalty trial, he spent his time reading, sleeping and preparing for his case on a government-issued laptop computer.
He also occasionally sang while wearing headphones connected to the computer.
But he never appeared to talk to himself or to people who didnt exist. He never appeared to experience hallucinations and always seemed alert and even polite when corrections officers checked on him.
Thats what Ada County correction Deputy Ralph William Thompson said this week at Duncans competency hearing before U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge in Boise.
Thompson said Duncan's accommodations were unlike those for any other inmate hes seen housed at the Ada County Jail.
Ive never seen a computer in with another inmate, given to him to keep, said Thompson, who has worked at the jail since 2006.
Duncan is the only Idaho criminal on federal death row.
A federal bomb dog and investigators traveled from Spokane to the federal courthouse, providing extra security during the hearing, which is expected to last several weeks.
Other Ada County Jail employees are expected to testify when the hearing resumes next week. Prosecutors say their testimony will show Lodge that Duncan wasnt affected by mental disorders or hallucinations and was competent when he waived his right to appeal his three death sentences, which a federal jury in Boise imposed in 2008 for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Dylan Groene in 2005. Duncan kidnapped the boy and his sister after beating their mother, brother and their mother's fiance to death with a hammer in their home just east of Coeur d'Alene.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Lodge to hold a competency hearing after Duncans lawyers filed an appeal against his wishes saying they didnt think he was competent. If Lodge rules Duncan wasnt competent, hell then have to decide if he was competent to act as his own attorney before a new sentencing hearing can be held.
Duncans new lawyers, Michael Burt and Randall Martin, say the 49-year-old sex offender was abused as a child and in prison and suffers from distorted religious views that make him unable to make his own legal decisions.
Theyve focused on what Duncan has described as an epiphany that occurred just before he was going to kill Dylan's younger sister in 2005. Duncan said he realized what he was doing was wrong and decided to return the girl to Coeur d'Alene.
Lodge has heard testimony from several experts who have examined Duncan, including Cynthia Low, a chief psychologist with the Federal Bureau of Prisons who evaluated Duncan at a prison near Seattle after his trial.
She found no mental problems, but noted his disturbing reaction when another inmate being housed nearby let out a blood-curdling scream.
The look on his face seemed to be one of remembrance as well as pleasure, Low said. That is unusual to say the least. Duncan's lawyer questioned whether being creeped out affected Lows ability to objectively evaluate Duncan.
The hearing is the first time Duncan has had lawyers arguing in his defense. He had lawyers present during the 2008 trial, but he handled the case himself.
Duncan, who is being housed in solitary confinement at the Ada County Jail, is quiet and attentive in court. During a 15-minute break, he engaged in lively small talk with now-retired FBI Special Agent Mike Gneckow, the main investigator on the case, asking him about his wife, also a retired FBI agent, and his dogs.
Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418