Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of stabbing four University of Idaho students to death, sat wordlessly in court during his arraignment on Wednesday as a judge read aloud the murder and burglary charges against him and asked if the suspect was ready to announce his plea.
Instead of entering a plea, Kohberger’s attorney replied, “Your Honor, we remain silent.”
The unconventional legal strategy, also known as “staying mum,” relies on an Idaho criminal rule that requires a judge to then enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of the accused, allowing them to avoid making a verbal commitment to be guilty or not guilty.
“It doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t say,” Seattle attorney Anne Bremner told CNN. “Anyway, he’s registered with a plea of not guilty.”
Although highly unusual, remaining silent is not unheard of. The tactic was also used in the case against Nikolas Cruz, the shooter responsible for the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
As the October trial looms, Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary for the Nov. 13 murders of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, in an off-campus house in Moscow, Idaho.
Although a general gag order largely concealed the details of the case from the public, investigators said Kohberger, a graduate student from the Department of Criminology at nearby Washington State University, entered broke into the victims’ homes and stabbed them several times before fleeing the scene.
The gruesome murders and protracted investigation have plunged the college campus and surrounding town into uncertainty and apprehension. After nearly seven weeks, Kohberger was arrested and identified as the suspected killer.
According to Samuel Newton, a law professor at the University of Idaho, there are a number of reasons defendants may choose to “keep silent,” especially in a case as high-profile and highly scrutinized as Kohberger’s. .
The defendant may want to avoid the criticism that might accompany some plea, Newton said. A plea of not guilty, for example, can spark public outrage that they do not take responsibility for their alleged actions, he explained.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys could also negotiate behind the scenes, potentially discussing a plea deal, Newton said.
Bremner dismissed the idea that the ruling might indicate that Kohberger’s attorney might consider a plea of not guilty on account of insanity, since there is no insanity defense in Idaho.
Kohberger has been held without bond since he was arrested in December at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania and flown back to Idaho, where he is awaiting trial.
The trial is due to begin on October 2 and is expected to last about six weeks.
Prosecutors have 60 days from Monday to announce, in writing, whether they plan to seek the death penalty in their case against him.
Two hearings are also scheduled for June 9 to deal with motions, filed by a lawyer representing the de Goncalves family and a media coalition, regarding concerns about the sweeping gag order in the case.
The restriction currently prohibits prosecutors, defense attorneys, lawyers for victims’ families and witnesses from publicly discussing details of the case that are not yet public.
After Kohberger’s arrest, investigators presented some of the evidence that led them to identify the 28-year-old suspect, including surveillance footage, testimony and DNA evidence.
A key lead came from surveillance footage that filmed a white Hyundai Elantra near the victims’ home that night, according to a probable cause affidavit. The vehicle, which was later found by Washington State University police in Pullman, Wash., was registered to Kohberger, authorities said.
The information on Kohberger’s driver’s license matched a description of the suspect given to police by one of the victims’ surviving roommates, officials said.
The roommate told investigators she saw a masked figure dressed in black in the house on the morning of the murders, according to an affidavit. She described the person as ‘5’10’ or taller, male, not very muscular, but athletic with bushy eyebrows,” he said.
While the investigation was still ongoing, Kohberger drove across the country to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, arriving there about a week before Christmas, Monroe County chief public defender Jason LaBar told CNN. in December.
There, investigators were finally able to connect Kohberger to the crime scene by linking DNA found in trash collected from his family’s home to DNA on a tan leather knife sheath found next to one of the victims. , according to the affidavit.
A cache of items was seized from the Pennsylvania home after the suspect was arrested, including a cell phone, black gloves, black face masks, laptops, a Smith and Wesson pocket knife and a knife in a leather sheath. leather, according to a record of evidence.
Authorities also seized a white 2015 Hyundai Elantra. A lawyer for the suspect previously said he used to drive, accompanied by his father, to his parents’ home for the holidays.
The vehicle was disassembled by investigators, who recovered parts, fibers and swabs for further examination, according to court documents.