BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The suspect in the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students opted Monday to “stand silent” to murder charges, prompting the judge to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf ahead of a trial in which he could face the death penalty.
The Nov. 13, 2022, killings stunned the rural community of Moscow, Idaho, and prompted many students to leave campus early, switching to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.
Bryan Kohberger, 28, was arrested late last year and charged with burglary and four counts of first-degree murder in connection with with the slayings of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin at a rental home near the University of Idaho campus.
Kohberger declined to enter pleas in Latah County District Court, with his defense attorney Anne Taylor telling the judge that they were going to “stand silent” at this time. In response, 2nd District Judge John Judge entered not guilty pleas on Kohberger's behalf.
It's uncommon but not unheard of for defendants to “stand silent” in criminal cases. Sometimes it is done because defendants and their attorneys feel they need more time to weigh the ramifications of entering a plea of guilty or not guilty; other times it can be part of a broader legal strategy or simply a defendant's personal choice.
Kohberger declined to waive his right to a speedy trial, so the judge scheduled it to begin Oct. 2. It's still possible that the trial, expected to last six weeks, could be delayed or moved to a different location.
Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at nearby Washington State University when the University of Idaho students were killed, but prosecutors have not released any information about how they believe he may have chosen the victims or whether he had met any of them previously.
Police released few details about the investigation until after Kohberger was arrested at his parents’ home in eastern Pennsylvania early Dec. 30, 2022. Court documents detailed how police pieced together DNA evidence, cellphone data and surveillance video that they say links Kohberger to the slayings.
Investigators said traces of DNA found on a knife sheath inside the home where the students were killed matches Kohberger, and that a cellphone belonging to Kohberger was near the victims’ home on a dozen occasions prior to the killings. A white sedan allegedly matching one owned by Kohberger was caught on surveillance footage repeatedly cruising past the rental home around the time of the killings.
Kernodle, Chapin, Mogen and Goncalves were friends and members of the university’s Greek system, and the three women lived together in the rental home just across the street from campus. Chapin — Kernodle’s boyfriend — was there visiting on the night of the attack.
Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson now has 60 days to inform the court whether he will seek the death penalty in the case.
The small courtroom was packed for the arraignment, with some members of the news media and other onlookers lining up outside three hours before the proceeding was set to begin, Boise television station KTVB reported. Family members of Goncalves were among those who attended, one of them weeping as the charges were read.