Idaho County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson announced on Monday his intention to seek the death penalty for Bryan Kohberger, who has been charged with the killings of four University of Idaho students.
Kohberger was indicted in the fatal stabbings of Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Maddie Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, and he entered a not guilty plea when he was arraigned on May 22. Idaho state law requires the prosecution to file a written notice of intent to seek the death penalty within 60 days of the plea.
The students were killed in their off-campus home in Moscow, Idaho, in the early morning hours of Nov. 13. Investigators said they connected Kohberger’s DNA to a knife sheath left partially under Mogen’s body on her bed. In a recently released court motion, authorities said investigators had used genetic genealogy techniques to identify familial connections that led them to Kohberger, a criminal justice doctoral student at nearby Washington State University in Pullman. He was arrested at his family’s home in Pennsylvania on Dec. 30.
Kohberger’s attorney disputed the investigators’ findings in a filing last week, calling genetic genealogy a “bizarrely complex DNA tree experiment” and saying there was no connection between the victims and Kohberger, adding “there is no explanation for the total lack of DNA evidence from the victims in Mr. Kohberger’s apartment, office, home or vehicle.”
In his filing on Monday, the prosecutor said his decision to seek the death penalty was based on a number of “aggravating circumstances,” including that the murders were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity,” and alleging that Kohberger not only killed multiple people but also “exhibited a propensity to commit murder” that could pose a “continuing threat to society.”
The quadruple killings have drawn worldwide attention not only for their brutality but also for the lack of an obvious motive. Police revealed few details about their investigation in the weeks before Kohberger was arrested, spawning widespread rumors and wild accusations by amateur sleuths on social media. In January, a judge imposed a sweeping gag order barring attorneys, police, witnesses and lawyers for family members, among others, from speaking about the case.
The order was challenged by a media coalition, and on Friday a judge agreed to narrow its scope, calling the original order “arguably overbroad” and “vague.” The judge denied Goncalves family lawyer Shanon Gray’s appeal to speak publicly about the case but noted that the gag order “does not restrict the Goncalves family from speaking about the case to the media or anyone else.”
However, the judge said, “statements made to the media by those involved in the case spread like wildfire, and at times have been twisted and misconstrued.”
On Monday, Gray shared a statement with HuffPost on behalf of the Goncalveses following the prosecutor’s announcement: “The Goncalves Family is grateful that the Prosecutors office is pursuing the death penalty. There is no one more deserving than the Defendant in this case. We continue to pray for all the victims families and appreciate all the support we have received.”
A trial date has been set for Oct. 2.