Editor's Note: This article contains information about horrible crimes, vividly described and hard to read - even for a veteran law enforcement officer. Please take that into consideration before deciding to read further.
Author's Note: Though it is customary not to reveal the names of sexual assault victims, the names of the victims in this case received widespread publicity during and after these events, and their names have been prevalent in the public domain. For that reason only, they are published in this article.
For law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victim specialists, judges, and other professionals who work in the criminal justice system, exposure to child victimization in any form can be deeply disturbing, emotionally upsetting, and anger-producing. Oftentimes, even for seasoned professionals who think they have seen and heard it all, a case arises and a form of victimization surfaces that can take their breath away with a gasp of shock at the horrific details that emerge. The victimization issues that follow, as a consequence, affect not only the direct victims involved but secondary victims that can include other family members, friends, and colleagues of the victims as well as the local community where the incident occurred and surrounding communities. It is even possible that the egregious nature of the crime and its impact may incite the desire, as well as the need, for an outcry for systemic changes to occur.
If any case brings to light the horrific impact of victimization, its impact, and the desire for change, it is one that centers upon a previously convicted child molester and suspect in some murders, Joseph Edward Duncan III. Duncan, who was out on $15,000 bond for molesting a 7-year-old in Minnesota, found his way to Couer D'Alene, Idaho and was stalking the family of Brenda Groene and three of her five children who were living with her - Slade, 13, Dylan, 9, Shasta, 8, and her fiancé, Mark McKenzie, 37. One night in May 2007, he entered their home through an unlocked door and utilized duct tape and zip ties to restrain Brenda and Slade Groene and Mark McKenzie, and he subsequently beat them to death with a hammer. Duncan had removed Dylan and Shasta from the home into the yard and later informed them he had killed their family members.
Duncan transported the children to Montana to a campsite in the Lolo forest where he sexually abused them both. One day, Duncan left Shasta at the campsite while he took Dylan away and was gone for over three hours. During that time he sexually abused and tortured the child and he made a video of the sadistic acts which he later forced Shasta to watch. Upon their return, Shasta witnessed Duncan accidently shoot her brother in the stomach leaving his guts spilling out; Duncan then shot the boy in the head, at close range, with blood splattering on her clothes. "The way this little girl describes it is: her brother's head exploded," stated Idaho U. S. Attorney Thomas Moss. Duncan hanged the boy until he was unconscious - and almost dead - and he then burned his body in a pit for several days until it was reduced to ashes.
Duncan repeatedly molested Shasta and told her that she had taught him "how to love." Seven weeks after these crimes occurred, and one day when Shasta and Duncan were eating in a restaurant, a waitress recognized Shasta as the little girl who had been abducted and contacted law enforcement authorities. Her vigilance resulted in Shasta's rescue on July 2, 2007. When law enforcement authorities responded to the family home, they found a gruesome sight of deadly violence and human carnage.
The nature and type of this brutal victimization raises many issues. For Steve Groene, the horror of knowing that Duncan had murdered two of his children, his ex-wife, her fiancé, and knowing that Dylan had been sexually molested, tortured to levels of extreme pain, and killed in a merciless fashion was obviously overwhelming. Undoubtedly, despite Shasta's disquieting victimization, he is grateful his daughter survived. The shock, the grief, the accompanying loss issues, the anger, the joy and relief, concerning his daughter's rescue, are just some of many emotions he is likely experiencing. "This is still so incomprehensible that it's going to take a long time for us to realize what's happened," said Groene.
Both Steve Groene, along with his surviving daughter, Shasta, will need a lot of emotional support in the aftermath of these events. Fortunately, there is a large extended family to provide that to them both. Shasta, a witness to the very violent crimes committed upon her family members, could benefit from professional psychological services that would enable her to cope with her exposure to her family members being killed and the significant losses she will endure throughout the remainder of her life. "She has witnessed horrible things. These things will stay with her," says Washington state psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Domitor.
Despite the trauma the young girl sustained throughout her own molestation as well as observing her brother's victimization, Shasta had remarkable recall as a witness to the events. She was able to describe the night of the abduction to assist law enforcement authorities to locate the campsite where she and her brother were held captive. Following her rescue, Shasta was hospitalized. Law enforcement officers questioned her about their kidnapping and the events that had occurred. It is imperative in cases such as this that police officers have a crucial understanding of the effects of brutal victimization so that they can carefully elicit the information they need from the child victim but also do so in a manner that will not cause additional trauma and emotional distress. The key elements needed for the investigation are important, but the child's welfare is of vital concern as well.
Determining whether or not a child should testify is always a critical factor to consider. In this particular case, Shasta was a key witness with information important to the case. For her to have to face Duncan, who was serving as his own counsel, would re-victimize her and add further trauma to the impact of the victimization she already experienced. "I don't want to be in the same room as him. I hate him and don't want to see his face. He killed my family, and he shouldn't be here" said Shasta. It was decided in this case that if her testimony was required, it would be conducted by closed-circuit television. "This little girl went through more than any little girl should ever have to think about," said Kootenia County Sheriff Captain Ben Wolfinger.
The impact of this victimization also strikes law enforcement personnel who are directly involved in the case, but it also impacts those in the system who simply hear about it or have awareness of the circumstances. Those officers who were first responders at the murder scene were faced with the aftermath of a savage killing spree, and it does affect them no matter how many years of experience they have under their belt or how many crimes they have dealt with. One officer was so affected that he left the law enforcement field for a period of time stating, "This case pushed me to the end." At a later point in time, he did return and resumed his professional duties. It is vital, therefore, that police officers - as well as prosecutors and other professionals who work these type cases - have support mechanisms within their organization as well as accessible outside outlets to help them cope with the heinous crimes they must deal with.
The community is affected in knowing that a crime of this nature occurred in their neighborhood, and residents in and around the surrounding area may not only be in shock but may be fearful that they, too, could become victims of crime at some point in their lives. For those who were personally acquainted with the victims, they also experience the accompanying shock, grief, and loss. For jurors who serve on the case and who must hear all the testimony, consider the evidence objectively, view lurid photographs, and see alarming videos of unmerciful depictions, it is especially difficult because they cannot discuss their feelings with anyone throughout the trial. As a result, the impact of their experience can also be traumatic because they see, firsthand, the victimization that ensued as a result of barbarous and inhumane acts on innocent people and vulnerable children.
This case highlights the multi-faceted effects of extremely sadistic, violent victimization that affected an entire family, young children, the law enforcement community, and the public at large. For Steve Groene, who must come to grips with these tragedies and who must deal with the aftermath of the victimization of his surviving daughter, the effects are monumental. Reflecting on the fact that his daughter saw, firsthand, the brutal murder of his son and her brother, Dylan, he can nod his head in agreement with U. S. Attorney Moss' statement to the jury about Dylan, "He is a little boy whose last days on this earth were filled with experiences that no child should ever have to endure, and he deserves justice that only you can provide."
Footnote: For the 2005 kidnapping of Dylan and Shasta Groene and Dylan's murder, Duncan pleaded guilty to 10 federal charges. Three of the charges carry the death penalty. On August 28, 2008, after three hours of deliberation, the jury ruled the defendant should receive the death penalty for the kidnapping, torture, and murder of Dylan Groene. The jury's recommendation was binding on U. S. District Court Judge Edward Lodge.