Joseph E. Duncan III, the notorious serial killer responsible for the brutal slayings of a Coeur d’Alene family, died of brain cancer while awaiting execution, prosecutors in California said in a statement Sunday.
Duncan died Sunday at a hospital near the federal prison in Terra Haute, Indiana, according to the statement from the Office of the District Attorney for Riverside County. He was 58. One of Duncan’s victims, 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, was a resident of the county.
“The sun is brighter today, and my soul is lighter,” Anthony’s mother, Diana, said in the statement. “The world is a more beautiful place without the evil that is Joseph Duncan. God chose to make his end a long suffering and I believe that is fitting. The horror of his thoughts consumed him.”
In 2005, Duncan killed Brenda Groene, her boyfriend Marke McKenzie and her 13-year-old son, Slade, in their home near Coeur d’Alene. Duncan also kidnapped two of Groene’s other children, Shasta, then 8, and Dylan, 9.
After abducting the two children, Duncan took them to Montana where he assaulted and abused them. Shasta was recovered when she appeared in a Coeur d’Alene Denny’s with Duncan, but Dylan’s remains were found three days later at a campsite back in Montana.
At the time of the killings and abduction, Duncan was a registered sex offender.
Duncan received nine life sentences for his attack on Dylan’s family. In 2008, Duncan pleaded guilty and a federal jury handed down three separate death sentences, one each for the convictions of kidnapping, sexual exploitation and use of a firearm resulting in Dylan’s death.
Jurors in the death penalty sentencing phase were shown a videotaped interview with Shasta Groene, who told police that at one point Duncan brandished the claw hammer he had used to kill her family. The video was one of a few shown to jurors in which the young girl described the beatings, molestation and harrowing threats, that Duncan made while she was being held hostage.
Duncan has continued to attempt to appeal the death sentences over the years, even asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case twice. The high court refused both times.
Duncan pleaded guilty to killing 10-year-old Anthony Martinez, which brought him to a total of 11 life sentences in addition to the death sentences. He also confessed to killing two girls in Seattle for which he was never charged.
Recently, Duncan was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. He underwent surgery last year and had declined chemotherapy and radiation.
In November, a doctor estimated that Duncan’s life expectancy was between six months and a year, according to a January court filing.