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Bryan Kohberger seeks change in venue for Idaho murders trial

Idaho murders suspect Bryan Kohberger has filed a motion to move his highly anticipated trial outside of Latah County.

Lawyers for Mr Kohberger argued that a “fair and impartial jury cannot be found” in the same county where four University of Idaho students were found brutally slaughtered in their off-campus house, because of the “extensive, inflammatory pretrial publicity” the case has received, according to the filing.

The 29-year-old former criminology PhD student is facing the death penalty for the November 2022 killings of Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20 – a horrific crime that rocked the small town of Moscow and has garnered international attention for over a year now.

In the motion filed on Tuesday, Mr Kohberger’s lawyer Anne Taylor argued that simply “enlarging the jury pool will not do anything to overcome that pervasive prejudicial publicity” because the county “does not have a large enough population centre to avoid the bias in the community”.

She wrote that the “allegations made about Mr Kohberger to the public by media that will be inadmissible at his trial, the small size of the community, the salacious nature of the alleged crimes, and the severity of the charges” he faces makes pulling an unbiased jury from the county impossible and wants to move it to a place that hasn’t been saturated with coverage of the case.

The 29-year-old former criminology PhD student is facing the death penalty for the November 2022 killings (AP)
The 29-year-old former criminology PhD student is facing the death penalty for the November 2022 killings (AP)

Prosecutors pushed back against the issue when it was raised during a pretrial hearing on Friday, stating that the case is so well-known everywhere, it would not make a difference to move it.

“It’s not Moscow. It’s not Latah County. It’s everywhere. So, I don’t think that a change of venue is going to solve any of these problems,” Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said.

“I have people, friends in this community who have travelled to Mexico. And they say, ‘You’re from Moscow?’ And immediately, they want to talk about this case.”

He argued for why the case should be kept in Latah County.

“We at least owe Latah County, the people of Latah County, the attempt to seat a jury here first. And not just rely on, ‘There’s been a lot of publicity’. There’s been a lot of publicity everywhere,” Mr Thompson said.

“We believe that we can select an appropriate panel of jurors from Latah County. We have the tools to work with that, that we’ve discussed with your honor,” he told the judge, adding that they had already drafted a “fairly comprehensive” juror questionnaire for review.

“They have suffered for well over a year now with a lot of uncertainty. And that’s painful, and it’s an everyday reminder, and they need some certainty and they need some closure in a timely fashion,” he said.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were killed in November 2022 (Instagram)
Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were killed in November 2022 (Instagram)

At the same hearing, Mr Kohberger’s legal team made yet another bid to have his indictment dismissed and to unseal documents in the case, which Judge John Judge denied.

Prosecutors had previously asked for a trial date of summer 2024. However, the judge did not set a date for the high-profile quadruple murder trial – as had been expected – despite also raising concerns over further delay.

“My heart goes out to the victims. I can’t even imagine the pain, the grief... because you can’t really go forward with your life with this hanging over your head, so, I’m sorry,” he said.

Lawyers for Mr Kohberger argued that a more appropriate date would be the summer of 2025, claiming that there was a mountain of evidence including thousands of photographs, videos, and over 400 witnesses to interview.

In the early hours of 13 November, Mr Kohberger is accused of breaking into an off-campus student home on King Road, Moscow, and stabbing to death the four students with a large, military-style knife.

Two other female roommates lived with the three women at the property and were home at the time of the massacre but survived.

The house where the murders took place was razed to the ground – a decision that divided the families of the victims (AP)
The house where the murders took place was razed to the ground – a decision that divided the families of the victims (AP)

One of the survivors – Dylan Mortensen – came face-to-face with the masked killer, dressed in head-to-toe black and with bushy eyebrows, as he left the home in the aftermath of the murders, according to the criminal affidavit.

For more than six weeks, the college town of Moscow was plunged into fear as the accused killer remained at large with no arrests made and no suspects named.

Then, on 30 December, law enforcement suddenly swooped on Mr Kohberger’s family home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania, and arrested him for the quadruple murders.

Investigators said he was tied to the murders through his DNA found on a knife sheath left on the bed next to Mogen’s butchered body.

The motive remains unknown, and it is still unclear what connection the WSU PhD student had to the University of Idaho students – if any – prior to the murders. The murder weapon – a fixed-blade knife – has never been found.

In December 2023, the student home where the murders took place was razed to the ground – a decision that divided the families of the victims.