INDIO — A drifter who brutally murdered at least three members of an Idaho family in 2005 and kidnapped two of their young children was charged Thursday with the decade-old slaying of a 10-year-old Beaumont boy abducted at knifepoint near his backyard.
The 1997 killing of Anthony Martinez weighed heavily on the town of Beaumont, where billboards pleading for information about Anthony's disappearance remained for years.
Joseph Edward Duncan III, 43, was named as a suspect in Anthony's death in 2005 after he reportedly told FBI agents he was involved in the slaying. Investigators also said Duncan's fingerprint was discovered near Anthony's body, which was found nude and bound with duct tape on a remote canyon road north of Indio.
Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco on Thursday announced that Duncan had been charged with first-degree murder, and the newly elected prosecutor vowed to seek the death penalty.
Duncan, a convicted sex offender, pleaded guilty in October to three murder and three kidnapping charges in Idaho and is awaiting his final sentence for those crimes.
During that rampage, Duncan bludgeoned to death Brenda Groene; her fiance, Mark McKenzie; and her 13-year-old son, Slade Groene, inside their home near Coeur d'Alene. He then kidnapped the other two children in the house, 8-year-old Shasta Groene and her 9-year-old brother, Dylan.
A Coeur d'Alene waitress ended the nationwide hunt for Duncan when she recognized Shasta Groene, whose face was on "missing" fliers around town, at a Denny's in July 2005. Dylan Groene was later found dead at a Montana campsite.
On Thursday, just hours after Pacheco's news conference, a federal grand jury in Idaho indicted Duncan in the killings of Dylan Groene and the kidnapping of the two Groene children, which may make it more difficult for Riverside County authorities to extradite Duncan to California any time soon.
To prevent California from prosecuting Duncan first, federal officials in Idaho scrambled over the weekend to file a complaint against Duncan in federal court for taking a stolen Jeep across state lines.
"We've been aware that a number of places had an interest" in Duncan, said Jean McNeil, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office in Idaho. "We just wanted to make sure that he has to stand trial for these charges and he has to do that soon."
State prosecutors in Idaho have said they would seek the death penalty for the three killings in the house if Duncan escapes it in his federal trial for the kidnapping of the two remaining Groene children, the killing of Dylan Groene and the sexual assault of both. Duncan was sentenced to three consecutive life terms at the state level without parole for kidnapping.
The announcement of the Riverside County murder charges in the Anthony Martinez case marked the end of a long and often frustrating investigation by state, county and federal officials, who chased down about 15,000 leads before they found their suspect eight years later.
In the same press conference Thursday in Indio, Riverside County Sheriff Bob Doyle spoke directly to Anthony's mother, Diane Gonzales, who held back tears.
"While we cannot bring Anthony back to you, we can bring his killer to justice," Doyle said.
Anthony was playing outside with his brothers and friends in April 1997 when a man approached in a white sedan asking for help looking for his cat.
He jumped out of his car, pulled a knife from his waistband and grabbed Anthony, who struggled as he was dragged into the car.
Hundreds of law officers descended on Riverside County, combing the remote canyons and surrounding areas on horseback, on foot and in helicopters. Fifteen days later, a federal Bureau of Land Management employee on patrol spotted Anthony's body.
Mitch White, a lead investigator on the case with the Beaumont police, said investigators struggled for years as one lead after another fell through.
"I thought sooner or later, given the nature of this guy, he would get caught on some other crime," said White, a retired lieutenant. "We believed that he was not going to stop, that this was not an isolated thing."
Pacheco said prosecutors decided to seek the death penalty because of the vulnerability of the victim, the brutality of the crime and Duncan's record. Investigators believe Anthony was killed by blunt force against a rock, and he was sexually assaulted.
Duncan first served time for the 1980 rapes of a 14-year-old boy in Washington state. He told psychiatrists at a state mental hospital that he had raped other boys, as young as 12.
Anthony's mother said her family had wrestled with the death penalty question.
"We came up with the conclusion that we would stand by whatever the district attorney decided to do in the case of Joseph Duncan -- provided that Joseph Duncan never see the light of day again, whether that be through death or incarceration for the rest of his life," Gonzales said. "We believe justice will prevail whether it be through the courts or through the eyes of God."