Judy Clarke, a prominent capital defense attorney, told U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge on Tuesday that she and the other attorneys didn't realize the extent of Joseph Edward Duncan III's mental problems when they first took the case. She said they eventually understood that Duncan thought he was receiving revelations about his legal case through the television and books, and once even through his mother's decision to send a holiday package of sausage and cheese to him in jail.
Her testimony came as part of the retrospective competency hearing that was ordered by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to help Lodge determine whether Duncan was mentally competent when he gave up his right to appeal his death sentence in 2008.
Clarke described Duncan as an intelligent client who could handle concrete facts and ideas well, but who also believed that by refusing to participate in his legal case he would lead mankind on some sort of path to greater enlightenment.
Duncan has been attending the hearing and is being held at the Ada County Jail in Boise.
His crimes are among the most gruesome in recent Idaho history, and he's been convicted of five murders spanning three states.
Duncan was convicted in Idaho state court of killing Slade and Brenda Groene and Mark McKenzie at their northern Idaho home in 2005, when he kidnapped 9-year-old Dylan Groene and his sister, 8-year-old Shasta. He took the two children to the remote Montana wilderness, where he tortured and abused them for weeks before killing Dylan and returning with the girl to Coeur dAlene, where he was arrested.
Duncans crimes against the two young children were handled in federal court. He told his attorneys in that case that he had planned to kill Shasta while still in Montana and was about to bash her in the head with a rock when he had an epiphany and decided to let her live.
Duncan, who uses the nickname Jet, spoke frequently about that epiphany and his belief that he was a Jesus-like figure for the world, Clarke said.
The epiphany on the mountain and (the girl) was a constant topic, Clarke said. The pure love that came from this enlightened child, who taught Jet so many things through her purity.
Assistant U.S. Attorney C.J. Williams said in court that Duncan also told investigators that hed considered taking the girl to San Francisco to pimp her to strangers before he decided to return to Idaho.
Central to Duncans beliefs was that he shouldnt participate in the case against him because his words would prevent others from reaching the same level of enlightenment, Clarke said.
Our ultimate problem was that the legal process was an impediment to the truth in Jets world, Clarke said. The words impeded the path to the truth. ... Just as he had held the rock over the childs head, the jury had the rock to hold over his head, and they had to decide whether to be enlightened like he was, whether to have their own epiphany.
The risk of the death penalty wasnt much of a concern for him, Clarke said.
... It wouldnt mean anything to him it wasnt going to be death as we know it, she recounted.
As Duncans attorneys continued to press him to put up a meaningful defense, the relationship devolved, Clarke said. He eventually asked to represent himself in court, and the judge agreed.
Clarke and the other attorneys stayed on as standby counsel, ready to help Duncan at his request. They also asked the judge to find Duncan mentally incompetent.
Prosecutors have tried to show that Clarke and others are acting on their own anti-death penalty interests, not Duncans, at this hearing.
An investigator for the defense, Nancy Hernandez, testified Monday that she actually poked herself in the eye with a pen so she could tear up while talking to Duncan about appealing his death sentence.
Williams questioned Clarke about the lack of a deal with prosecutors that would have prohibited Shasta from having to testify in Duncans 2008 sentencing hearing. He noted that Duncan agreed to keep the girl off the stand as soon as he became his own lawyer.
Idaho Statesman reporter Meghann M. Cuniff contributed.