Kohberger could push for venue change, speedy trial, says Idaho law professor
Documents in the case of four University of Idaho students released after Bryan Kohberger’s first court hearing include DNA evidence taken from a knife sheath at the scene. The newest information is drawing high-profile scrutiny of even more media outlets. Correspondant Lauren Paterson reports on how the international attention around might affect legal proceedings.
Bryan Kohberger, the suspect facing four counts of first-degree murder for the killing of four University of Idaho students, had his first hearing at the Latah County Courthouse Thursday.
Members of the media packed the room, but the front row was reserved for family members of the victims. Many of them became visibly upset when the judge read the charges.
The judge made clear that the maximum penalty for the offenses is life in prison or death.
Kohberger’s defense attorney, public defender Anne Taylor, pushed for bail on the grounds that the case is new for them and said the suspect had a good family standing behind him, but the judge denied bail. Kohberger will remain in custody.
According to the affidavit, law enforcement identified a white car from surveillance footage by late November. Investigators pulled footage from cameras in Pullman and Washington State University that identified Kohberger’s car on the WSU campus where he lived.
The car is what first led law enforcement to Kohberger, but they spent time building up other evidence, including cell phone location records.
The cell phone data shows Kohberger on the move during the night of the killings, but the phone stops pinging about an hour before the crime. Law enforcement say that’s consistent with someone putting their device in airplane mode or turning off their phone. It starts up again at a location south of Moscow. The suspect’s vehicle was seen leaving the area of the King Road residence at 4:20 a.m.
Investigators pulled records for Kohberger’s phone all the way back to June 2022. Those pings revealed he was in the area at least a dozen times before the attack on Nov. 13. All but one occurred late at night or early in the morning.
Police also say they have DNA evidence taken from the snap of a leather sheath, which was found at the scene.
Detectives say the sample matches family DNA identified from the garbage taken from Kohberger’s home in Pennsylvania. Law enforcement could confirm a match by taking a sample from the suspect.
The affidavit revealed a roommate heard a thud and crying coming from one of the victims’ rooms. She opened the door and saw someone dressed in black with a mask, walking toward her. She said he walked by her and then toward the sliding glass back door.
With all the sensationalism around the case, University of Idaho law professor Richard Seamon said the defendant could push for a faster trial.
“The Constitution guarantees an accused the right to a speedy trial, which means that, really, there has to be no delay,” Seamon said. “And the community has an interest in the case being resolved as quickly as possible. So I do think that one of the things we’ll see throughout this spring semester are lots of pretrial proceedings.”
Seamon said he wouldn’t be surprised if there is a trial within the next couple of months. But it might not happen in Latah County. The defense could push to move the case to a different county, he said.
“It’s entirely possible the defendant will seek to change venue, that’s the legal term for it, of having the case tried in a different court, somewhere else in Idaho,” Seamon said. “The idea there would be that the defendant is more likely to get a fair trial, if the jury is drawn from a community of people who have less knowledge of, involvement, and feelings about the case.”
The prosecution might resist a venue change, on the grounds that the trial should take place in the community where the students were killed, Seamon said. He said that’s one reason he hasn’t discussed the case much in his classes at U of I. Many of Seamon’s students had personal connections to the victims, and the emotions around it are still raw.
Although Seamon said many of the law students and undergraduates didn’t come back after Thanksgiving break, he said he wouldn’t be surprised if many people now feel comfortable coming back to campus with a suspect in custody.
C.G., a student who didn’t want to use their full name, is planning on coming back to U I.
“I feel like I have a big community. I always have somebody walking with me at night, or I call Safe Walk. And you know, they’d come pick me up and drive me back to my building,” they said.
The student said people constantly asked them about the case through social media or even as they rode up a ski lift. They got messages from people they know and others they don’t.
“It’s brought a lot of unwanted attention, too, in the form of the TikTok media sleuths,” they said. “Me and my friends, we’re going insane about that stuff.”
They’re upset about the deluge of misinformation and watching people accuse people that knew the victims or U of I professors.
“It’s so disrespectful and hurtful to the whole school. It gives us a really bad rap. And it’s just, it’s crazy. It’s a lot of attention that I don’t think we’re all ready for,” the student said.
Spring semester at University of Idaho starts Wednesday, Jan. 11, but begins for Washington State University on Monday, Jan. 9.
Before his arrest, Kohberger was in his first semester as a Ph.D. student at WSU, where he also had a job as a teaching assistant. The towns of Moscow and Pullman straddle the state lines of Washington and Idaho – there are less than 10 miles between.
Kohberger had an interest in forensics. He applied for an internship with the Pullman Police Department in the fall of 2022 and mentioned helping rural law enforcement use technology to enhance public safety.
According to the affidavit, Kohberger posted a Reddit survey asking participants to provide information to “understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision making when committing a crime.”
Kohberger’s next hearing is set for Jan. 12 at 10 a.m.