MOSCOW, Idaho — The man accused of stabbing and killing four University of Idaho students in the dead of night on Nov. 13, 2022 stood silent during his plea on Monday.
A "not guilty" plea was entered on his behalf.
Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old former teacher’s assistant and criminology graduate student at Washington State University, arrived in a Latah County courtroom early Monday morning in an orange jumpsuit with the word "prisoner" printed on the back. He sat down next to his attorney, Anne Taylor, in shackles that surrounded his ankles.
Kohberger did not waive his right to speedy trial, but Taylor asked if it was possible to set the date for trial at the farthest point possible, meaning six months after his plea.
This also starts a ticking clock for Latah County prosecutors to file an intent to seek the death penalty, which is within 60 days of a plea entry according to Idaho law.
The defense and prosecution agreed to set a tentative trial date for Oct. 2 of this year, expected to last up to six weeks.
The courtroom, seating around 60 people, was entirely full as onlookers watched with anticipation to see Kohberger again, who has not appeared in court since January. Families of the victims --- Xana Kernodle, Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen -- along with those from the prosecutor's office, filled the right side of the room behind two cameras pointed directly at the defense table. Some were wiping tears from their eyes.
Alivea Goncalves, the sister of Kaylee Goncalves, gave birth in February and chose her baby's middle name to be "Maddiekay" after her sister and Mogen. She brought her baby to court Monday as she cooed while the proceedings took place.
Latah County District Judge John C. Judge asked if Kohberger understood the charges against him. He only responded with "yes."
First-degree murder carries a possible death sentence in Idaho. If Kohberger goes to trial and is found guilty, he could be sentenced to death provided a jury comes to that decision – or life in prison if they don’t.
Kohberger was indicted by a grand jury, according to a court filings dated May 16. The charges the grand jury indicted him on were the original charges police filed against him – this includes four counts of first-degree murder for the stabbings and one count of felony burglary that alleges Kohberger broke into the 1122 King Road home with intent to commit murder.
A grand jury proceeding is not public – but during that proceeding, a jury would hear evidence and testimony from witnesses in order to decide whether there is probable cause to indict someone on the charges. Because the grand jury indicted Kohberger on the four murders and burglary, this means they found enough cause for the case to move forward in court.
Kohberger's decision to stand silent did not come as a surprise to attorneys KTVB spoke with.
"No matter how want to flavor it it's still a 'not guilty' plea to the charges. It’s what everyone suspects," Goncalves family attorney Shanon Gray told KTVB, "That’s what every defense attorney would advise their client to do in an arraignment because then you find out what charges are against you as far as discovery. Then you figure it out form there."
Former Ada County Chief Ddeputy Prosecutor Jean Fisher said standing silent doesn't hurt the defendant.
"It's a tactic the defense often uses when they didn't have the opportunity to participate because of the grand jury, so they just stand silent," Fisher said.
The Latah County Courthouse was packed Monday -- not only with the victims' family and friends, but with media and some people who live in the small college town, or near it.
"This is the type of stuff that doesn't happen in Moscow," long-time Moscow resident Jonathan Hukill said. "When anything like this happens in any form or fashion everyone feels it in the community. And then especially this case... With it being four young students everyone in the community felt it."
That's the very reason many people in Moscow want justice and closure for the victims, and the case moved out of town.
"It would not be surprising to see it moved. It would be surprising for it to stay here," Hukill added.
It's highly possible Kohberger's trial moves to Ada County or another larger county in a different part of Idaho where there's a better chance of finding a fair and impartial jury.
"Discovery has been going on since January - as soon as he was arrested and his preliminary hearing was set. The state is under duty then to start sending discovery to the defense," Fisher said, "So they have a lot of discovery already. I don't know what else is still out there but it isn’t as though they already had a number of months already to prepare and start looking and investigating their case. So an additional five months from January is giving them 10 months before trial started."
Fisher and Gray believe it's also likely the trial gets pushed back - especially if prosecutors file a motion to seek the death penalty.
"Because a jury in that proceeding would make the decision whether to impose the death penalty and the defense has other actual witnesses they need to have prepared and ready to go," Fisher said.
"Even speaking with prosecutors, I think they don't think it'll go for another year or two. I'd be surprised. That being said, we'll be prepared and be in trial every day whenever it goes there, Gray told KTVB.
As for Kaylee's family, Gray says they are glad the case is moving forward and they're hopeful the trial will result in a conviction.
They sat through the arraignment Monday.
"It's always tough seeing the guy in court. And Steve and Kristi are a strong family and the girls, Alivea -- they lean on each other and sometimes when it's emotional for one the other steps up. So it's always a tough day when you have to see someone who's suspected of murdering your daughter in a courtroom," Gray said.
As the attention turned to the suspect Monday, the victims' families want to keep their memories front and center, including Madison's dad. He shared how deeply he misses his daughter.
"I want people to remember Maddie as just being a loving, caring, beautiful person who everybody just misses so much and we’re all so proud of. We were just so lucky to have her in our life for the time that we did," Ben Mogen told NBC News over the weekend. "This has been the most difficult thing any of us will ever go through. And it's just important to stay close to your loved ones and family in times like this, I would say. A lot of us are going to counseling; I've gone to counseling and it's helped a lot being able to talk about things and remember her in best way we can and keep her memory alive."
The house on King Road, known as "King Street" by the college students in Moscow, used to have Goncalves' Jeep parked in front, among other vehicles that sat on the gravel outside the home with a wreath on the front door. Now, the parking lot is empty with the exception of a blue security trailer and a few "no trespassing signs" posted on a silver fence. The windows, which once were propped open enough for small visibility by onlookers, are now boarded up with large squares of plywood.
No suspect was on police's radar until late December of 2022 after a white Hyundai Elantra - which was seen in the area on the night of the murders - caught an officer's eye parked at the nearby college campus of Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Washington. It was traced to Kohberger, who had made his way to his family home in in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania in the very same car.
On Dec. 28, police say they matched their unknown suspect's DNA from a knife sheath found at the scene to their suspect's biological father -- and concluded they now had enough probable cause to arrest Kohberger.
It was there that Pennsylvania State Police broke in the door of his family's home with a warrant for his arrest on Dec. 30, 2022.
That same day, police collected samples of stains from Kohberger’s apartment. Two swabs came back positive in a presumptive test for blood, meaning that the fluid is ‘likely’ blood. Those stains were located on an uncased pillow and a mattress cover.
Courts and investigative reporters Morgan Romero and Alexandra Duggan are in Moscow bringing updates on air and online.
Suspect in Idaho student murders in court Monday
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