Criminology graduate student Bryan Kohberger is expected to enter a plea at his arraignment Monday after being indicted for the November stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho college students.
Kohberger, 28, will appear before District Judge John Judge at 9 a.m. local time in a Moscow, Idaho, courtroom to be formally advised of the charges against him and to enter a plea. Court officials last week revealed a grand jury had indicted Kohberger on four counts of first-degree murder and a count of burglary.
Authorities say DNA evidence left on a knife sheath found at the stabbing scene ties Kohberger to the deaths of Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Xana Kernodle, 20, whose bodies were found by another roommate on Nov. 13. Neither police nor prosecutors have discussed a motive, in part because of a wide-ranging gag order.
Kohberger had previously been charged by prosecutors with the same five counts, but a grand jury indictment means they can keep more of their case secret for longer. A judge has also sealed the list of grand jury witnesses after prosecutors said secrecy would help preserve Kohberger’s right to a fair trial while preventing harassment.
“…The state respectfully represents to the court that it has received numerous complaints from potential or prospective witnesses, or their families and associates, regarding being harassed both in person and via social media,” prosecutors wrote to the judge. “The reports of harassment have included threats as well as what appears to be intimidation.”
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Death penalty on the table
If convicted, Kohberger could face the death penalty, which is legal in Idaho. The father of one of the victims said he believes Kohberger was stalking her. A surviving roommate said she saw a tall, thin masked man with bushy eyebrows inside the house after hearing noises coming from another bedroom, but she went back to bed and didn’t call for help.
Kohberger was taken into custody on Dec. 29 in his parents’ home in northeastern Pennsylvania, about 2,500 miles from where the stabbings occurred.
Investigators say Kohberger was a PhD student in criminology at Washington State University across the nearby state line in Pullman.
How did authorities ID suspect?
Investigators say they tied Kohberger to the deaths with DNA samples and surveillance footage, cellphone tracking software, and trash from outside Kohberger’s family home in Pennsylvania, according to court documents.
A police search warrant revealed that Kohberger’s phone had been tracked near the students’ house at least 12 times in the six months before the attack.
What about the gag order?
A coalition of media organizations is asking the court to overturn or narrow a sweeping gag order limiting police, attorneys and many government officials and family members from speaking publicly about the case. The judge who issued that order on Wednesday declined to alter or remove it in advance of the Monday hearing.
“The gag order, which is based on the parties’ stipulation, rests merely on an assumption that press coverage is bad,” media attorney Wendy Olson wrote in asking a judge to reconsider. “The U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution demand more.”
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Kohberger’s attorneys opposed the request and said they needed more time to prepare for the hearing and demonstrate how he would be harmed by increased press scrutiny.
The sweeping gag order prevents police and attorneys from discussing the case. But media organizations argue it has also improperly prevented authorities from answering basic questions about Kohberger’s jail cell or whether investigators are reviewing any cold case files in light of his arrest, and it has scared the victims’ family members into staying silent instead of talking about their loved ones.