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Police, prosecutors face tough questions


DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Joseph Edward Duncan III's arrest early Saturday in the company of a missing 8-year-old girl had some people across the country asking why the convicted sex offender wasn't already behind bars.

Duncan, 42, was charged by summons in March in Becker County District Court with molesting a boy and trying to molest another on July 3, 2004, at a playground in Detroit Lakes.

Duncan, who was living in Fargo at the time, appeared in court April 5 on the charges.

Judge Thomas Schroeder set bail at $15,000 and Duncan was released after posting the cash and promising to stay in touch with a probation agent.

Duncan met with the agent the week of April 11, but was not heard from again, police say.


Becker County Attorney Joe Evans said Saturday his office requested bail be set at $25,000, saying the amount was based on Duncan's previous history, which included one conviction as a juvenile, a stable residence in Fargo for nearly five years and his attendance at North Dakota State University.

Many people usually can't bail out of jail when bond is set at $25,000, Evans said, adding, "Even at $15,000, the majority of people can't make that kind of bail."

Becker County officials became concerned when Duncan failed to contact his probation officer and sought to get him back in custody.

"We had concerns he would not be found, and we had concerns he would re-offend," Evans said.

"I don't know if there is anything we could have done differently," he said.

"We asked for higher bail. We sought a warrant for his arrest. His bail was forfeited. We were actively trying to locate him and prosecutors met regularly with police on the case."

Evans, who was reached at his home in Detroit Lakes, appeared disturbed by the news surrounding Duncan's arrest.

Evans said sex offenders present unique challenges and lawmakers this year passed harsher sentences for such cases.


"There are certain types of offenders who cannot be rehabilitated," he said. "They are what they are. There are certain types of offenders who need to be incarcerated forever."

Evans said he doesn't know if Duncan is one of them.

"It's all fresh and we don't know what all has occurred," he said, referring to the events in Idaho.

Duncan moved to Fargo in 2000 after serving 14 years in prison for raping a 14-year-old boy at gunpoint in Tacoma, Wash.

Fargo police officials said Saturday that before dropping out of sight in April, Duncan had caused no problems.

His release after the April hearing shouldn't be read as a failing by any law enforcement agency, Deputy Police Chief Keith Ternes said.

"There were no legal means for us to force Mr. Duncan to stay here in the Fargo-Moorhead area," Ternes said.

Chad Jutz, an investigator with the Detroit Lakes Police Department, said Saturday the victims in the July 2004 incident provided investigators with descriptions of their assailant and his car.


Duncan was identified as a suspect by cross referencing the descriptions provided by the children with information on file with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Jutz said.

Evans, who was reviewing Duncan's file when a reporter contacted him, said given the facts Judge Schroeder had at the time he set bail for Duncan he would not criticize him.

"Judges do their best with the information they've got. There will always be people that second-guess, but we can't always predict human behavior," Evans said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555

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