Criminal Justice

Closed Courtroom Sought in High-Profile Capital-Case Sentencing


Federal prosecutors in Boise, Idaho, filed a motion yesterday seeking to close the courtroom for a high-profile sentencing in a case that reportedly involves child sexual abuse as well as kidnapping and murder.

It would be emotionally difficult for the one surviving child kidnapped by Joseph Duncan in May 2005 to testify in front of a packed courtroom during the sentencing hearing, the motion contends. The hearing may involve a video shot by the convicted defendant, Thomas Duncan, of what prosecutors say was his torture of her murdered brother and direct questioning of the surviving child by the defendant, who is seeking to represent himself, according to the Spokesman-Review, a newspaper in nearby Spokane, Wash.

However, more than a dozen media and open-government organizations, which have opposed the plan to close the courtroom to the public, say it’s already going to contain numerous individuals involved in the case, so allowing additional people to attend won’t make a significant difference. It is also their constitutional right to attend the sentencing, which could result in the death penalty, this group argues.

Duane Swinton, a Spokane lawyer who represents the Spokesman-Review, says he was disappointed recently to learn that there have been a number of documents secretly filed in the case over the past year.

Duncan, who is already serving a life sentence for kidnapping three family members of the surviving victim at their home near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, could now be sentenced to death in the current federal child-kidnapping case. He pleaded guilty to all counts in the federal case in December, as discussed in another Spokesman-Review article.

He has also been charged in a 1997 California child killing, where prosecutors say they also intend to seek the death penalty, and he is suspected in two other child murders in Washington state in 1996.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: “Prosecutors want Duncan hearing closed when Shasta testifies”

ABAJournal.com: “Attys Ask for One More Year of Trial Prep”

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