AOH :: ISN-3157.HTM

Duncan's laptop of horrors may be bargaining chip

Duncan's laptop of horrors may be bargaining chip
Duncan's laptop of horrors may be bargaining chip 

By Nicholas K. Geranios
The Associated Press
October 18, 2006

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho As the man accused of kidnapping two children and 
killing their family waits in a jail cell for a federal indictment he 
still holds what could be a bargaining chip: An encrypted laptop that 
may contain more horrors.

The FBI's top hackers apparently have been unable to break Joseph Edward 
Duncan III's security encryptions, and a plea bargain Duncan's lawyers 
struck Monday with state prosecutors says the key must only be shared 
with his defense lawyer.

The computer key may provide Duncan some negotiating leverage in the 
next few weeks when authorities file federal charges that are expected 
to carry the death penalty.

"Federal authorities are going to attempt to execute my client," said 
Roger Peven, Duncan's federal public defender. "This is something I'd be 
happy to talk with federal authorities about."

Peven is the only person other than Duncan to have seen some of the 
contents of the laptop. He has declined to say what he saw on the 

Has Duncan, a computer-savvy predator with his blogs, videos and other 
high-tech tools, outwitted law officers? And what do his computers 

"I am working on an encrypted journal that is hundreds of times more 
frank than this blog could ever be (that's why I keep it encrypted)," 
Duncan wrote on his Web log three days before the May 16, 2005, murders 
near Coeur d'Alene.

Duncan speculated that it would take at least 30 years for technology to 
emerge that could easily crack the encryption "and then the world will 
know who I really was, and what I really did, and what I really 

Duncan, 43, pleaded guilty Monday to killing three people Brenda Groene, 
her 13-year-old son, Slade; and her boyfriend, Mark McKenzie so he could 
kidnap Shasta Groene, then 8, and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan, for 

Seven weeks after the May 2005 slayings, Shasta was rescued. Dylan's 
body was later found at a remote campsite in Montana. Under his state 
plea agreement, he is to be sentenced to three consecutive life terms 
without parole.

But federal prosecutors have said they intend to charge Duncan with 
kidnapping Shasta and Dylan, and that they expect to seek the death 
penalty. Court documents allege he repeatedly molested the pair.

Duncan also has been investigated in the abductions and murders of 
10-year-old Anthony Martinez in Riverside County, Calif., in 1997 and 
two Seattle half-sisters, Sammiejo White, 11, and Carmen Cubias, 9, in 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Marc Haws noted that Duncan's initial plea 
offer, which was rejected by Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas, 
called for Duncan to reveal the encryption key in exchange for escaping 
the death penalty.

That initial deal also hinted that the contents of the laptop contained 
information involving at least Shasta Groene. The final deal called for 
the key to be revealed only to Peven.

Haws declined to criticize the state's plea agreement, saying Douglas' 
job was only to get the best deal against Duncan in state court.

"How it affects the federal case is not their job," Haws said.

If the federal trial does not produce a death sentence, Duncan could be 
brought back for a death penalty hearing in state court, Douglas said.

FBI computer experts in Quantico, Va., have reportedly spent the past 
year trying to break into Duncan's laptop, which was found in his stolen 
vehicle in July 2005, and the desktop computer at his apartment in 
Fargo, N.D.

Douglas said he rejected the initial offer that would have given law 
enforcement officers the encryption key because it also spared Duncan 
the death penalty in the state case. The contents of the computer were 
only of interest to federal authorities, Douglas said.

"That was not even my case," Douglas said.

Duncan, a Tacoma, Wash., native, is a registered sex offender who spent 
most of his adult life in prison for sex crimes against children. He was 
released from prison in 2000, and was scheduled to complete a bachelor's 
degree in computer science at North Dakota State University in May 2005, 
the same month the murders occurred.

Public defender John Adams, who negotiated the plea agreement with 
Douglas, said the final deal "was something both sides could live with."

"I don't know what's on there," Adams said of the laptop computer.

Copyright 2006 The Seattle Times Company

Visit the InfoSec News store! 

Site design & layout copyright © 1986-2015 CodeGods