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Preliminary hearing set for University of Idaho student murder suspect

Until the preliminary hearing takes place in late June, the public shouldn't expect much more information about the murders of four students from the University of Idaho.

(CN) — The 28-year-old suspect in the slaying of four college students in Idaho appeared before a Latah County judge, who set a preliminary hearing in the criminal case against him for June 26.

Bryan Kohberger faces one count of felony burglary and four counts of murder in the stabbing deaths of Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, who were killed in the early morning of Nov. 13, 2022, in the rental home the women shared as students at the University of Idaho.

Reports and information provided by police show that earlier that evening, Chapin and Kernodle attended a party at a fraternity across the street, while Mogen and Goncalves were at a nearby bar before stopping to eat at a food truck. All of the victims arrived home at around 1:45 a.m., police say.

The four students were found close to noon later that day. Two other female roommates living in the house at the time were unharmed. Investigators believe the homicides occurred between 4:00 a.m. and 4:25 a.m.

Kohberger was a graduate student in criminology at Washington State University, about 10 miles away from the scene of the crime. Investigators have yet to outline a motive, although they say they connected him to the crime through an array of evidence, according to the unsealed affidavit by Brett Payne, a police corporal in Moscow, Idaho.

To start, investigators say they matched Kohberger’s DNA with that found on a leather knife sheath left behind at the crime scene. Shortly before arresting Kohberger at his parent’s home in Effort, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 30, 2022, investigators confirmed the DNA match by comparing it to the DNA of Kohberger’s father taken from his trash.

Moreover, investigators say Kohberger fit one of the surviving roommate’s description of the intruder she saw that night in the house, someone “5’10” or taller, male, not very muscular, but athletically built with bushy eyebrows.” The roommate told investigators she locked herself in her room after watching the man walk past her and out the back sliding glass door as she stood in a “frozen shock phase."

Additional evidence presented in the 19-page affidavit included video evidence investigators say puts Kohberger’s white Hyundai Elantra in the vicinity at the time of the murder and cellphone data that indicated Kohberger had left his apartment in Pullman, Washington, at around 2:42 a.m.

Shortly after, they say Kohberger’s phone began using cellular resources southeast of the victims’ home and there was no other location data available from the phone until 4:48 a.m. from a tower in Moscow, Idaho, suggesting he turned his cellphone off. Around then, his phone records indicate he took a southerly roundabout route back to Pullman through Genesee, Idaho, and Uniontown, Washington.

Coincidentally, the affidavit notes Kohberger applied for an internship with the Pullman Police Department in the fall of 2022 and wrote an essay stating his interest in assisting rural law enforcement agencies in “how to better collect and analyze technological data in public safety operations.” The affidavit also says Kohberger posted a Reddit survey asking participants to provide information to “understand how emotions and psychological traits influence decision making when committing a crime.”

The survey, posted several months ago, indicated Kohberger was a student investigator working with two professors at DeSales University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees studying psychology and criminal justice. The post has since been removed.

Following Kohberger’s arrest in Pennsylvania and his extradition hearing on Jan. 3, his public defender there Jason LaBar, said Kohberger had been following the case with interest and was “shocked” to be arrested. That same day, Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued a nondissemination order that prohibited “any communication by investigators, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and agents of the prosecuting attorney or defense attorney concerning this case,” the Moscow Police Department said in a statement.

Kohberger was flown to Pullman, Washingon, and driven to the Moscow jail on Jan. 4. Kohberger made his first court appearance the following day.

According to the small pool of reporters allowed in the Latah County courtroom, the victims’ families opted to join Thursday's proceedings remotely instead of in person.

During the brief status hearing, Kohberger’s public defender Anne Taylor requested to have the preliminary hearing six months out to give the defense time to go over the details of the case. Both prosecutors and the defense agreed that June would be a good time to schedule the hearing, which they estimate will last three to five days.

Kohberger filed a request for discovery on Jan. 10. During the hearing on Thursday, Judge Marshall asked Kohberger if he waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing.  

“If you waive your right to a speedy preliminary hearing, it does not mean that you’re giving up your right to a have a preliminary hearing. It simply means that you would not be able to come back and challenge that the state did not present probable cause within 14 days. Do you understand?” Marshall asked.

“Yes,” Kohberger said.

Marshall set the preliminary hearing for June 26 through June 30 "in the event that we need all five days for presentation of evidence."

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