Riverside County reaches plea deal with convicted child killer Joseph Duncan

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Steven Cuevas/KPCC

Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach speaks to reporters on March 15, 2011, after accepting a plea deal from attorneys for convicted killer Joseph Duncan.

Riverside County prosecutors have reached a plea deal that will allow a serial child killer to avoid the death penalty in California. Joseph Duncan already faces multiple death sentences in Idaho. He’s now pleaded guilty to killing a 10-year-old boy in Riverside County.

The plea deal saves Duncan from the death penalty in California. Instead, he’ll get life without parole and he won’t serve that time in Riverside County. That’s because Duncan was sentenced to death in Idaho after he was convicted of killing two boys, their mother and her fiancé six years ago.

During the Idaho investigation, Duncan confessed to the kidnapping and murder of 10-year old Anthony Martinez near Joshua Tree 14 years ago.

“Having been a prosecutor for over 22 years and a Superior Court judge for 11 years, I have never seen a person that is more deserving of the death penalty than Joseph Duncan,” said Riverside County District Attorney Paul Zellerbach.

“It’s also quite clear to me that the federal criminal justice system will execute Mr. Duncan long before the state of California would ever consider doing that,” he said.

Zellerbach said he agreed to a plea deal after he spoke with prosecutors, Idaho authorities and the Martinez family. Anthony’s mother Diana Gonzales says the family was ready for a resolution.

“And we can now, you know, mourn Tony’s death the way we should have in the beginning,” said Gonzales. “When we buried him, we didn’t know who did it. And the Riverside County Sheriff and Beaumont, they never forgot and we’ll be eternal grateful to all the departments involved.”

Duncan is scheduled for sentencing next month. Riverside County authorities will then send him back to Idaho to await execution.

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