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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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One year since Idaho college students were killed, here’s where murder case stands

Campus vigil pays tribute to four stabbing victims


BOISE, Idaho — In the days immediately following the tragedy that stole four University of Idaho students’ lives one year ago, memorials made up of flowers and mementos symbolizing the victims spontaneously surfaced throughout a mournful Moscow.

Hosting one was the driveway at the site of the homicides, a home on King Road with distinctive architecture that quickly became recognizable nationally. Another took hold on the slender wooden tables outside the Mad Greek restaurant downtown, where two of the students had worked.

For months, tall white candles dedicated to each of the four victims — Maddie, Kaylee, Xana, Ethan — became a constant among other items left behind in tribute. The eternal flames kept their memories alive, reminding passers-by of the lost lives.

On a night in mid-January, Isla Lester, a server at the Greek restaurant, took a few moments between customers to scrawl out the letters K-A-Y-L-E-E in orange marker on the side of a fresh candle. She brought it outside to join three others already lit in remembrance. A help-wanted sign hung posted in the window.

By August, nine months after the killings, the candles were gone. Inside the restaurant late last month, beside a frame with now familiar photos of the four students, a sign told patrons: “Believe there is good in the world.”

A year after the students’ deaths, Bryan Kohberger, the man charged with their murders, remains in custody. But the case persists largely unresolved without a trial date, awaiting closure sought by victims’ families, and with them all of Idaho.

The U of I scheduled a student-led vigil for Monday to honor the four students on the administration lawn.

“It is important that the students lead this effort toward healing,” McClain said in a news release. “We want to ensure we continue to tell their stories, to honor their legacy and to provide a place where each student can heal. Together we are moving forward.”

Kohberger arrest ends 7-week manhunt

Kohberger, 28, faces four first-degree murder charges and a count of felony burglary in the Nov. 13, 2022, deaths of U of I students Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21, and Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, both 20. At the time, Kohberger was a graduate student at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, about 9 miles west of Moscow.

Kohberger was taken into custody in late December in eastern Pennsylvania in connection with the fatal stabbings. His arrest ended a nearly seven-week manhunt that garnered attention nationwide and made Moscow a household name.

Four days later, in early January, Kohberger agreed to travel to Idaho to face the charges. He made his first appearance in the Latah County Courthouse on Jan. 5.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled for June, but canceled after a grand jury instead indicted him in May. Kohberger was arraigned the following week, where Judge John Judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

Judge, of Idaho’s 2nd Judicial District in Latah County, chose to maintain a prior gag order issued by a magistrate judge. Attorneys for the prosecution, defense, witnesses and the victims’ families are not allowed to speak about the case outside of court filings. As defined agents of the prosecution, members of law enforcement also are restricted from talking about their investigation.

Kohberger trial postponed indefinitely

Kohberger last appeared for a court hearing earlier this month. Judge provided prosecutors and his public defense team an update after initially ruling that the defense deserved to receive at least some of the DNA records produced by the FBI that helped investigators land on their client as the suspect.

Judge set a deadline of Dec. 1 for the FBI to turn over its records to prosecutors. From there, he’ll review the records behind closed doors and make a final decision about which ones must be turned over to the defense through the legal process known as discovery.

Before that, attorneys for each side appeared at a pair of hearings over whether the indictment by the local grand jury seated by Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson should stand. The defense, led by Kootenai County chief public defender Anne Taylor, made several arguments about irregularities in the grand jury process. Judge denied the defense’s effort to dismiss the indictment based on a claimed error in instruction to the grand jurors, and has yet to issue rulings on four other procedural grounds argued outside the public purview.

Kohberger’s murder trial is indefinitely postponed after he waived his right in August for it to begin within six months of the entry of a plea. His trial was originally scheduled to start the first week of October.

Prosecutors already have stated their intent to seek the death penalty for Kohberger if he is convicted by a jury. Idaho is one of 24 U.S. states that maintain active capital punishment.

Kohberger alibi: He went on a drive alone

In early August, the defense filed Kohberger’s alibi. They stated that their client “had a habit of going for drives alone” and that “often he would go for drives at night.”

The defense said Kohberger was on one of these drives on the night of the killings last year — late Nov. 12 into Nov. 13 — and that there are no specific witnesses to say where Kohberger was at the moment of the killings.

“We knew that already, and if that’s his alibi, so be it,” Thompson said in court in August. “We will accept what the defendant has said, he was driving around,” with a stipulation that he cannot provide more about it later at trial, he said.

Kohberger previously declined to provide a pretrial alibi after the state requested one, with his defense saying that the motion to provide an alibi was an attempt by the state to “force the defense to open its work product files and let the state peek inside.”

Kohberger’s defense said the alibi filed regarding Kohberger’s driving habits is the only one that can be “firmly stated” for now.

Cameras in the courtroom allowed

Despite arguments from Kohberger’s defense in September to keep cameras out of the courtroom, Judge said in late October that cameras would continue to be allowed for the time being, but with more controls than previously in place.

Kohberger’s defense argued that having cameras in the courtroom risked dehumanizing Kohberger and exposing attorneys’ private notes. A media coalition led by Wendy Olson, a former U.S. attorney for the District of Idaho, argued that allowing cameras would help increase the public’s access and understanding of the case.

Judge said he had been disappointed by how photos and videos from the courtroom were being publicized on the internet and wanted more control over camera usage, but has yet to define what that entailed.

“It’s a benefit and also potentially a harm,” Judge said. “It can tilt a case one way or the other if the media is, well, trying the case in the media. And we don’t want that because that’s not based on evidence, that’s not based on the rules of the court, and it can get out of control.”

U of I plans King Road home demolition

The university initially planned to demolish the house on King Road where the four students were killed after it was donated to the school by its previous owner.

The U of I planned to raze the house by the start of the fall semester in August, but after two postponements, there’s still no set date for its demolition. University spokesperson Jodi Walker told the Statesman that the school will hold off until at least the end of the fall semester, which concludes in mid-December.

The latest delay allowed the FBI and prosecutors to return to the King Road house in early November for more “documentation to construct visual and audio exhibits and a physical model of the home,” the university said in a news release.

The university has yet to say what may happen to the property once the home is demolished. Walker said the U of I is working with students and other community members for a memorial garden elsewhere on the campus in honor of the four victims, as well as other students who have died over the years.