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News / Northwest

Judge OKs phone surveys of jury pool for man charged in 4 University of Idaho student deaths

Prosecution had argued surveys violated gag order in case

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
Published: April 22, 2024, 5:41pm

BOISE, Idaho — Defense attorneys for a man charged in the deaths of four University of Idaho students can resume phone surveys of potential jurors in the case, a judge has ruled.

Bryan Kohberger faces four murder charges in connection with the November 2022 stabbing deaths of Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle, Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves. A judge has entered a not guilty plea on Kohberger’s behalf, and prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Kohberger’s defense team hired a consultant to survey potential jurors living near the university about things they might have seen, heard or read about the case. The phone survey included questions about Kohberger’s arrest, the type of car he owns, DNA evidence and a knife sheath found near one of the bodies. It also included questions about whether the person being surveyed had watched true crime-style shows about the case or other things they might have heard.

When prosecutors became aware of the survey earlier this year, they asked 2nd District Judge John Judge to order the defense team to stop, arguing that the surveys violated a broad gag order the judge had issued in the case. Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said some of the questions could prejudice people who could be called to serve as jurors when the case goes to trial.

In a ruling issued Friday, Judge said the surveys could continue as long as the questions do not violate his gag order. Most of the questions included information already publicly available through court documents, the judge wrote in the ruling, and so did not violate the order.

Other questions about rumors people might have heard or crime documentaries they might have seen about the case were not part of the public record when the surveys began, but they have since been debated and discussed in open court — which means they, too, are now part of the public record and can be included in future surveys, Judge said.

The bodies of the four University of Idaho students were found at a rental home near campus on Nov. 13, 2022. Police arrested Kohberger, 29 and then a graduate student at nearby Washington State University, more than six weeks later at his parents’ home in eastern Pennsylvania, where he had gone for winter break.

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