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News / Northwest

Defense for defendant Bryan Kohberger signals evidence challenges in Idaho murder case

By Kevin Fixler, Idaho Statesman
Published: May 31, 2024, 7:31am

BOISE, Idaho — State prosecutors in the University of Idaho student homicide case relied on a federal grand jury to obtain dozens of subpoenas to build their case against suspect Bryan Kohberger, it was revealed for the first time Thursday at a pretrial hearing.

As many as 71 sealed federal subpoenas produced potential evidence against Kohberger, who is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and faces the death penalty if convicted, Latah County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Ashley Jennings disclosed in court. The material from those subpoenas has all been turned over to the defense, she said.

But Kohberger’s public defense team said it wants the subpoenas themselves and demanded that the judge in the case order the state — and the federal government acting on its behalf — to turn them over. The federal grand jury, overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, led to what could prove to be pivotal evidence at trial and is included in the probable cause affidavit for Kohberger’s arrest, the defense said.

“They used a subpoena to get one of the most critical pieces of evidence in this case, and they know that, and they are going to use that,” Elisa Massoth, one of Kohberger’s attorneys, told the court Thursday.

Massoth did not specify which piece of evidence in the case that may be, or provide the date of that federal subpoena.

“What I can tell you is that for the majority … we did state search warrants, and we’ve received many of these records that way,” Jennings responded.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho Josh Hurwit and his office did not immediately respond Thursday afternoon to email and phone requests for comment from the Idaho Statesman.

Kohberger, 29, is accused in the stabbing deaths of four U of I students at an off-campus home in Moscow in November 2022. The victims were seniors Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21, and junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin, both 20.

More than 100 search warrants were obtained by city and state police detectives in their investigation into the student homicides that shocked the rural college town, state and nation. The FBI assisted with the investigation, including with producing DNA evidence that prosecutors said links Kohberger to the crime scene.

Kohberger’s defense is working toward filing several motions to suppress search warrants and evidence against their client, largely based around the timeline of police work leading up to Kohberger’s arrest. He was taken into custody in Pennsylvania at his parents’ house seven weeks after the students’ deaths.

The information, including the dates of those federal subpoenas, will help the defense establish that timeline and justify attempts to have evidence tossed from the case — blocking its use from the eventual trial and consideration by the jury. Timing is everything in the case for the defense, Massoth said.

“We are desperate to find out the timeline … and when the state knew what and when,” she told the court. “There’s no question that motions to suppress are coming.”

The Idaho judge handling the case has yet to set a trial date.