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Death penalty proceeding to be open, after all

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A federal judge in Idaho reversed his own decision closing a sentencing-related hearing today in the case of a man…

A federal judge in Idaho reversed his own decision closing a sentencing-related hearing today in the case of a man convicted of killing four people, including two children.

Joseph Duncan’s lawyers protested closure of the courtroom, calling the judge “overzealous,” in a motion filed earlier this week, reported The Seattle Times and The [Spokane] Spokesman-Review. Duncan could get the death penalty for the murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy.

The defense lawyers in return took some flack for their change of heart over openness in the case, The Spokesman-Review said. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge cast some blame for his decision to close the hearing in the first place on the lawyers, saying they built up the secrecy surrounding the case by filing documents under seal.

Prosecutors called the defense motion an attempt to delay further proceedings, the papers reported.

Duncan, originally from Tacoma, Wash., has already pleaded guilty to the 2005 kidnapping and murder of Dylan Groene. Separately in state court, Duncan pleaded guilty to killing the boy’s 13-year-old brother,  their mother and her fiance.

The case captured nationwide attention when Dylan and his sister Shasta, then 8, went missing for weeks after their relatives were killed. Shasta was ultimately rescued when a waitress recognized her with Duncan at a Denny’s restaurant.

Thursday’s hearing dealt with disclosure of expert witness testimony and the use of attorney-client privilege to prevent some materials from being used against Duncan on the stand, The Times reported.

Several news organizations had filed a brief urging the judge to open the hearing.