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News / Northwest

Judge bans media cameras in Bryan Kohberger case, offers new way to watch Moscow trial

By Sally Krutzig, Idaho Statesman
Published: November 20, 2023, 3:39pm

BOISE, Idaho — A court order from the judge overseeing the case against Bryan Kohberger, who is suspected of murdering four University of Idaho students, publicly released Monday outlines his news rules regarding cameras in the courtroom during Kohberger’s trial.

Judge John Judge of Idaho’s 2nd Judicial District in Latah County previously said he’d permit cameras but wanted to have more “control over them.” In the court order, Judge said he will grant Kohberger’s motion to “remove cameras” operated by the media, including both video and still photography. Instead, a court-operated camera will livestream the trial, which the public will be able to watch online on Judge’s YouTube channel.

The judge said in his order that this route “will ensure the public still has access to see the proceedings for themselves if they cannot attend hearings in person.” The ruling was filed at 5 p.m. Friday and made public through the Idaho judicial branch’s website Monday.

In a case that has garnered intense national interest, Kohberger, 28, is accused of stabbing four U of I students to death at an off-campus Moscow home in November 2022. The victims were seniors Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen, both 21; and junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin, both 20.

The decision comes after months of disagreement — played out through court documents and hearings — between the defense team and media outlets over whether cameras could prejudice a jury.

Judge’s order is unlikely to make either side happy. The defense had asked to ban all cameras, while media outlets asked to be allowed to take their own footage.

Kohberger’s defense team said media photographers and videographers had disobeyed Judge’s prior instruction to avoid focusing exclusively on Kohberger, the Idaho Statesman previously reported.

“The concept of removing this sort of almost sideshow from what’s being put out there, we think, would be an important way to kind of take away the sensationalization of this case, and just kind of reduce it to hopefully the words on the page,” Logsdon said at an October court hearing.

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The judge agreed with this assessment in his order, noting that “media cameras, both still and video, have and continue to zoom in on Kohberger,” despite a previous ruling that outlets not capture Kohberger entering or exiting the courtroom.

“It is the intense focus on Kohberger and his every move, along with adverse headlines and news articles, that leads the court to conclude that continued photograph and video coverage inside the courtroom by the media should no longer be permitted,” Judge wrote.

Judge also acknowledged concerns that people could zoom camera lenses in on defense documents in court and present a burden for bailiffs who could be called on to monitor members of the media.

While the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office was more acknowledging of the media’s importance, it too leaned toward banning cameras, and said images and video of graphic evidence from the crime and vulnerable witnesses’ testimony would be disseminated.

Wendy Olson, a former U.S. attorney for the state of Idaho, represented a coalition of about two dozen media outlets, including the Statesman, and argued at an October hearing in favor of allowing cameras. She argued for maintaining camera access in the courtroom on First Amendment grounds, saying it could help limit the publishing of misinformation about the case by non-journalist commentators, the Statesman previously reported.

The Goncalves family and some members of the Kornodle family have also publicly supported cameras in the courtroom.

“The answer is not less sunshine, it’s more,” Olson told Judge. “The public and this community will be best served by having those cameras in the courtroom.”

Judge denied that media members had any “First Amendment or other constitutional right to record” Idaho court proceedings, according to the order.

Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony burglary. A trial date has yet to be set after Kohberger waived his right to a speedy trial, but prosecutors have already stated their intent to pursue the death penalty if a jury finds him guilty, according to Statesman reporting.

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