ABC News, August 25, 2023
Attorneys for Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of killing four University of Idaho college students last fall, have asked the judge to nix cameras in the courtroom “for the remainder of the proceedings.”
In a new court filing released Friday, the defense says the “camera-[wielding] courtroom observers have failed to obey” an earlier directive not to focus “exclusively” on their client, pointing to photos that they said were a “blatant violation,” and to headlines they called “blatantly sensationalistic and prejudicial.”
That, the defense said, necessitates the “expulsion of cameras from future proceedings.”
The defense stated cameras’ “continued exclusive focus” on Kohberger also provides “fodder” for those on social media “who are not bound by notions of journalistic integrity and who have potentially an even greater reach than traditional media outlets.”
“Considering this is a capital case it is not surprising defense counsel seeks to insulate the defendant as much as possible,” David Calviello, a former New Jersey prosecutor who is now a criminal defense attorney, said. “In order to improve the clients chances of success in a capital case it’s imperative that they get a jury that knows little to nothing about the case. It doesn’t help to have unflattering images of the defendant’s face emblazoned in their memory.”
Arguing that rampant coverage could prejudice a potential jury pool, Kohberger’s lawyers said that that risk is “wherever they go, viewable on their smartphones and constantly updated by thousands of unchecked sources.”
“Far from constituting an undue and over restrictive burden on the press’ right of free speech,” Kohbeger’s lawyers said, “Mr. Kohberger is entitled to defend himself against capital criminal charges without cameras focused on his fly.”
The judge has not yet weighed in on their request.
Kohberger’s push to banish cameras from court comes as the one-time doctoral candidate, now facing capital murder charges, has also just moved to dismiss the indictment against him for the second time, arguing in a separate court filing that prosecutors used “inadmissible evidence” in presenting their case to the grand jury, that they lacked sufficient evidence, and have withheld evidence that might aid Kohberger in defending himself in the capital murder case he faces.
A memo with further details has been filed under seal, but in their filing Kohberger’s lawyers have cited select Idaho statutes that they say the prosecution violated during the Grand Jury process. One state rule of evidence they specifically point to says evidence must be proven authentic to back up the case – whether it’s witness testimony, “distinctive characteristics of the item, taken together with all the circumstances,” or an “opinion identifying a person’s voice,” the rule says.
Their public filing does not delve into the specifics of what Kohberger’s team alleges, but police have insisted that a critical eyewitness account on the night of the murders links Kohberger to the scene.
Prosecutors allege that in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2022, Kohberger, a criminology Ph.D. student at nearby Washington State University, broke into an off-campus home and stabbed to death four University of Idaho students: Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.
Around the time the killings allegedly occurred, authorities say one of the surviving roommates in the home heard “what she thought was crying coming from Kernodle’s room,” and “heard a male voice say something to the effect of ‘it’s ok, I’m going to help you.'”
Opening her door, the roommate “saw a figure clad in black clothing and a mask that covered the person’s mouth and nose walking towards her,” a figure she described “as 5’10” or taller, male, not very muscular, but athletically built with bushy eyebrows,” according to the affidavit.
Authorities said Kohberger’s driver’s license information and photograph “indicates that Kohberger is a white male with a height of 6′ and weighs 185 pounds. Additionally, the photograph of Kohberger shows that he has bushy eyebrows,” which they said was “consistent with the description of the male” which the surviving roommate “saw inside the King Road Residence” on the night of the killings.
After a six-week hunt last winter, police zeroed in on Kohberger as a suspect, saying they tracked his white Hyundai Elantra and cell phone signal data, and recovered what authorities said was his DNA on a knife sheath found next to one of the victims’ bodies. He was arrested on Dec. 30 and indicted in May, and charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary. At his arraignment, he declined to offer a plea, so the judge entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
If convicted, Kohberger could face the death penalty.
Though the trial was initially set for Oct. 2, on Wednesday, Kohberger waived his right to a speedy trial, postponing the trial indefinitely.
Calviello said with their latest motion to dismiss Kohberger’s team is attempting to poke holes in the case against their client, citing “foundational rules that form the threshold for a legitimate claim” as they try to show the case “fails to be sufficient.”
“Whether or not they’ll succeed in this motion remains to be seen, and without knowing the details we’re left to speculate – but it tells us they may be upping the ante, especially now that they have more time to do so,” Calviello told ABC News.
One of the rules cited in Kohberger’s latest attempt to dismiss the indictment notes that “evidence about a process or system” should show that it “produces an accurate result.”
Kohberger’s defense has repeatedly pushed for prosecutors to disclose more information about the investigative genetic genealogy which eventually helped law enforcement link him to the crime scene.
The prosecution’s assertion that Kohberger’s DNA was found on the button snap of that knife sheath is a critical linchpin of their larger circumstantial case – while Kohberger’s defense has attempted to cast doubt on the strength of investigators’ DNA evidence, and whether it pointed irrefutably to just their client.
Kohberger’s defense has alleged that his DNA could have been put on the Ka-bar knife sheath by someone other than him — for instance, during the investigation which spanned “hundreds of members of law enforcement and at least one lab,” they suggested in a June court filing.
This is not Kohberger’s first attempt at tossing out the indictment. In late July, they asked that the indictment be dismissed, arguing that the indictment is flawed because the grand jury was “misled as to the standard of proof required.” That motion is still pending.
Responding to Kohberger’s second push to dismiss in a filing released Friday, prosecutors leading the case against him asked for more time to respond, pointing to the more than 100-page supporting argument Kohberger’s team included in their motion, including “detailed factual and evidentiary issues” which the prosecution team say required review of the grand jury transcript and “complex scientific representations and disputes.”
The prosecution asked to address both his attempts to dismiss the charges against him in one hearing in late September, a request to which Kohberger’s attorney agreed.
The judge has yet to weigh in on that motion, as well.
By Sasha Pezenik on 8/25/2023 at 10:01 PM
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