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Judge warns of ‘irreparable harm’ in Idaho murder case

"There is a lot of irreparable harm from the media that is affecting a fair trial,” Judge John C. Judge said. “This is a very high-profile case.”
Credit: Zach Wilkinson/Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP
Latah County Judge John C. Judge presides over an arraignment hearing for Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022, Monday, May 22, 2023, in Latah County District Court in Moscow, Idaho.

MOSCOW, Idaho — A Latah County judge issued a stark warning following Bryan Kohberger’s arraignment that the media has done “irreparable harm” to Kohberger’s case and could affect his right to a fair trial.

Judge John C. Judge told the court that the media and attorneys alike have a larger responsibility to the Sixth Amendment, the right to a speedy trial by an impartial jury.

After Kohberger, the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students, stood silent on Monday during his plea and a “not guilty” plea was entered on his behalf, a hearing was held to decide when to hear arguments on a non-dissemination order within the case.

Known as a “gag order,” it forces those involved in the investigation or with knowledge of any evidence to abstain from commenting about the case. On Feb. 6, the Associated Press (AP) and other local Idaho media outlets filed a motion to nullify the gag order in the case, citing First Amendment violations. A scheduling conference for arguments on this motion was held at 11 a.m. in front of Judge.

Ultimately, he decided to hear the AP’s arguments on the matter on June 9 at 1:30 p.m. that will include discussions on whether or not to have cameras in the courtroom during future proceedings. But, not without some words for the AP’s attorneys and the media sitting, watching and writing in the courtroom.

“Irreparable harm goes both ways,” Judge said. "Arguing that the First Amendment is absolute is also troubling. The Associated Press needs to tone it down.”

Judge said that some of the coverage from certain media outlets is “concerning.”

"There is a lot of irreparable harm from the media that is affecting a fair trial,” Judge said. “This is a very high-profile case.”

Meanwhile, cameras, media tents and reporters remained outside in the Latah County courthouse parking lot to fill viewers in on what happened during Kohberger's arraignment. Journalists from across the United States planted their feet in Moscow to get a glimpse of the proceedings for themselves.

Judge said his job is to consider the harms, or “the injuries” that could occur in this case – from anyone.

“We all have constitutional responsibilities to the First and Sixth Amendment. What I am seeing in the newspaper is no discussion about the importance of the Sixth Amendment,” Judge said.

Kohberger is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. His trial is set for Oct. 2 since the judge issued a not guilty plea for him, but that could change if there is good cause to delay it.

So what does "standing silent" during a plea really mean?

Former Ada County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jean Fisher told KTVB that standing silent doesn't have any detrimental effect on a defendant.

"Standing silent could help the defense if they intended to file a motion of (Kohberger's) competency. They wouldn’t want him assisting the court by answering legal questions and then turn around and file an 18-211 motion asserting he is not presently competent to stand trial.  I obviously don’t know if that is considered at all. Just saying that is about the only 'upside' to standing silent," Fisher said.

This means that he did not enter a plea, but a plea was entered on his behalf to move forward. Kohberger has the right to remain silent during his plea, as specified under the Fifth Amendment. 

Anything a defendant says or does in a proceeding or interview can be held against them at a later date.

Kohberger is accused of entering a home at 1122 King Road in Moscow on Nov. 13, 2022, "with the intent to murder" a probable cause affidavit states.

He is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and her boyfriend, Ethan Chapin.

The Goncalves family has hired attorney Shanon Gray to represent them, who has also filed a motion in relation to the gag order. He aims to clarify or amend the order so he can speak on behalf of the family more freely. Gray's hearing regarding the non-dissemination order is also scheduled for June 9 at 10:30 a.m.

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