Former AG analyzes legal complications with alleged Idaho slayer extradition
As 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger is extradited back to Idaho to stand trial in the murders of four University of Idaho students, a new court order means more complications, with news on the case likely to only come after future court proceedings and documents are released.
In a press release sent Tuesday, the Moscow Police Department (MPD) said it would no longer be communicating any further details about the killings, the suspect, or his history.
MPD cited a recent “non-dissemination” order from Latah County Judge Megan Marshall, which requires the department to cease sharing information with the public or the press.
So why limit discussion prior to the trial?
“The judge issued a gag order because she’s very concerned about guaranteeing a free trial in this case,” said former Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna. “Given the notoriety, this intense publicity around the four murders, the fact that parents were speaking out and that people around the case were speaking out before this arrest was made, I think she has a legitimate concern that a fair trial could be harder if people involved in the case continue to discuss it publicly.”
When asked if it was only a matter of preserving an impartial jury, McKenna said it’s broader than that.
“[It’s] the idea that the entire system needs to maintain an appearance of fairness and not to have reached a conclusion before the legal process has worked its way all the way through,” he said.
The court order applies to virtually everyone with direct knowledge of the case, including all investigators, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and agents of the prosecuting and defense attorneys. McKenna said the scope is unusual, but not unprecedented.
“Even they can speak about the case if they limit their comments to the public record,” McKenna said, referring to those named in the order. “In fact, the probable cause affidavit, which lays out the case against Kohberger, will likely become public. And they would be able to talk about that affidavit, but only about what’s in it.”
Still, the gag order will not necessarily prevent the public from getting more information about the case in the coming days, weeks, months, and years.
Attorney and former Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that the gag order will have no impact on documents that are part of the public record. As per the law, members of the public will be allowed to request and obtain court documents through public records requests.
“The public record, in this case, will include the charging documents, which will likely describe the crime and the investigation and the suspect in great detail,” Lindquist said. “In a case like this, the charging document is going to be thorough. Almost everything you would want to know about the investigation is going to be in that document.”
Lindquist said those charging documents will come out when Kohberger is arraigned. After that, it may be some time before new information is released.
“There are going to be ‘bursts’ of information, and there is going to be quiet, and there is going to be another burst of information,” Lindquist explained. “The first burst is going to come with the arraignment. Probably the next real flood of information will be when the trial starts.”
Lindquist said it could be years before the trial takes place. In the meantime, however, smaller bursts of information may come out as new documents are filed.
“In between the charging and the trial of the suspect, there will likely be motions from both sides,” Lindquist said. “In those motions will be additional information about the investigation, about the suspect, about DNA, for example.”
While the gag order applies to the attorneys and law enforcement, there are others who will be free to give interviews to the press about the case.
“There’s nothing the judge can do to silence the victim’s families, potential witnesses, or anybody else who has some thoughts on the case,” Lindquist said.
Officials said Kohberger will be served with an arrest warrant for four counts of first-degree murder upon his return to Idaho, which is expected by mid-January. Police have declined to share further details about his arrival in the state, citing security reasons.
It’s unclear when Kohberger’s initial court appearance will take place.