Federal prosecutor wants Duncan proceedings closed

From the Spokesman-Review

By Bill Morlin
Staff writer
April 30, 2008

The U.S. Attorney for Idaho says the courtroom should be closed to the public during any testimony from Shasta Groene at the death penalty proceedings for confessed killer Joseph Duncan.

The public also should be prevented from being in the courtroom while the jury is shown a graphic videotape Duncan made three years ago inside a remote cabin on the Idaho-Montana border as he tortured and ultimately killed her brother, Dylan Groene, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a legal brief filed Tuesday.

Government prosecutors said although “harm may occur” to Shasta Groene if she takes the witness stand, “being forced to testify knowing that the whole world is watching and scrutinizing her every word and movement is likely to be even more psychologically damaging.”

The government document was filed in response to an earlier legal memorandum filed this month by 16 media and open-government organizations. They argued to U.S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge, who is presiding over the death-penalty phase in Boise, that the public has a constitutional right to observe all matters occurring in a courtroom.

“The United States moves to exclude, temporarily, the press and the public from the courtroom if S.G. testifies, and asks the court to consider closing the courtroom when the jury views the cabin video as well,” said the government brief filed by U.S. Attorney Thomas Moss and Assistant U.S. Attorney Syrena Hargrove.

Society has a “strong interest in protecting young victims of violent crime from further psychological harm,” matched against an equally “strong interest in ensuring the accuracy and completeness of testimony,” the 10-page legal brief said.

In court documents, the government refers to the Groene children by their initials only, even though their identities have been public since May 2005 when they were kidnapped from the North Idaho home where three murders occurred.

Shasta Groene and her father, Steve Groene, also have appeared on national television shows.

Spokane attorney Duane Swinton, representing The Spokesman-Review and others, said the media and open-government organizations are only asking to see and hear what the jury will see and hear in determining if Duncan should live or die.

“The media has suggested a reasonable alternative to Shasta testifying in an open courtroom and that is having her testify by closed circuit television where she would be in another room,” Swinton said.

Closing the courtroom will not accomplish what the government requests, he said, because the kidnap victim still must testify before the jury, attorneys, Duncan, the judge and a variety of court personnel.

Swinton said he also was disappointed to learn from the newly filed Justice Department’s brief that there apparently have been a variety of documents secretly filed with the court going back to July of last year.

These government documents, he said, contain legal arguments and factual material to the court urging closing part of the upcoming trial, “and yet this discussion has been going without any public notice or input until the recent briefing we filed.”

From the Spokesman-Review

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