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Pennsylvania public defender shares experience working with alleged Moscow murderer

Jason LaBar represented the alleged Moscow murderer from the moments after his Pennsylvania arrest up until he was passed off to Idaho's jurisdiction.

SPOKANE, Wash. —

Monroe County Chief Public Defender Jason LaBar said he was aware of the murder investigation out of Moscow, Idaho, but had no idea he would have a part to play in the investigation.

"I rushed into the office, I sat down at approximately noon, on Friday, and I came up with a plan," LaBar explained. "Sort of in my head, as to what I know I needed to do."

Despite the high-profile nature of the accused crimes, LaBar said his goal with this client was the same as any other.

"My goal in all of it was to really make sure that Bryan gets that presumption of innocence," LaBar said. "And then that gets promoted and people aren't jumping to the conclusions, making any type of bias or judgment calls just based upon what they've read or already know."

He said he first met his future client at the Monroe County Correctional Facility. He described him as an, “ordinary, average type guy."

He said the first thing he said to the suspect was to not share any information on the case.

"First thing I stated was, I don't want to know anything about the case," LaBar said. "Don't tell me about any of the facts. That's for your attorney out in Idaho."

LaBar worked with Kohberger following his arrest and in waiving his extradition hearing. LaBar said his client was calm in the hour he explained next steps.

“I explained to him essentially the extradition proceedings," LaBar said. "He was very calm. He was aware of what was going on. He was aware of the murders. My understanding is that he never even talked about in class. So, he was aware of the murders, but not, you know, dealing with the murders themselves."

In crafting a statement to the public, he said his client was intentional about what was said on his behalf. 

“The statement that was written was written by myself in my office, but the exonerated, the 'eager to be exonerated,' was his. I wanted to make sure that when it came to what he said about the presumption of innocence, in that I wanted to make sure it came in his words, like he specifically said, eager to be exonerated, rather than he was innocent or something like that.” 

Now, proving his innocence is in Kootenai County Public Defender Anne Taylor's hands.

LaBar said after reading the affidavit of probable cause, he said his former client's defense team might be able to poke holes in an upcoming trial.

“So, you have transfer DNA on the sheath, transfer DNA can stay on an item for up to at least a year, if no one else touches it or if it's unblemished or something like that," LaBar explained. "So I mean, that doesn't place him at the scene on the day of the crime."

LaBar also said the cell phone pings aren't enough to catch a potential killer.

“It’s certainly suspicious that he turns his cell phone off, but cell phone tower pings are unreliable at best. If it pings off a tower, you're talking about the individuals within 20 mile radius of that tower. As far as I know, as a crow flies, Moscow and Pullman are eight miles apart, so he could have left his phone theoretically, back at his apartment the entire time with it off and they wouldn't ever had him."

He said even spotting the model of his former client's car near the scene isn't enough solid evidence against Kohberger because there's no known video of him behind the wheel.

"The only thing that they linked together is obviously the car on surveillance, but nothing with him in the car," LaBar said. "Obviously, there's a lot to learn yet though."

LaBar said for those invested in this case, this is just the beginning of a long process ahead. He said as things are in its developing stages, the public should continue to view this case with an open and objective mind.

“We don't want to prejudge, and we don't want to jump to conclusions," LaBar said, noting the high-level exposure of the investigation. "So that when this plays out in court, everybody sees it equally. And he's given a fair trial. That was my goal the entire time. It remains my goal now. And I just hope that it's possible.” 

LaBar said he will continue to maintain a relationship with the suspect's family out in Pennsylvania, but he will no longer work directly with his former client now that he's in Idaho.

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