The capital murder trial of Bryan Kohberger, the suspect in the University of Idaho student homicides, was indefinitely postponed Wednesday after he waived his right to a speedy trial at a court hearing less than two months before its scheduled date.
Anne Taylor, Kohberger’s lead public defender, told the court that one of the main factors that influenced the decision was inadequate time for proper legal counsel ahead of the planned Oct. 2 trial start. The defense wishes to reset the trial date just one time, and not again after it is rescheduled, she said.
Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson called it a “smart move.”
Judge John Judge of Idaho’s 2nd Judicial District in Latah County acknowledged the significance of the closely watched case. Before finalizing the delay of the trial, Judge confirmed directly with Kohberger several times that he understood the right he was giving up and that he wished to proceed.
“Absolutely,” Kohberger responded the final time.
Kohberger, 28, is accused of fatally stabbing the four U of I students at an off-campus home on King Road in Moscow in November. The victims were seniors Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21; and junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin, both 20.
In mid-May, a grand jury in Latah County convened by the prosecution indicted Kohberger on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony burglary, which eliminated a scheduled preliminary hearing. Kohberger was arraigned a week later and stood silent when asked for his plea to the charges, leading Judge to enter a plea of not guilty. Judge scheduled the trial to begin in October.
The significant development in the case Wednesday comes just five days after an all-day hearing when Judge set a deadline of Sept. 15 for Kohberger to make such a decision. Under state law, criminal defendants must receive a trial date within six months of their arraignment if they don’t waive that right.
“Upon the court finally putting hard deadlines in place, the (Goncalves) family suspected that the defendant would waive his speedy trial rights,” the Goncalves family said in an emailed statement to the Idaho Statesman through attorney Shanon Gray. “This case carries enormous weight for the families and the community, and this additional time allows both sides to be fully prepared for the next trial date.”
Earlier Wednesday, before the hearing, the Goncalveses posted to their family Facebook page asking for prayers.
“We are afraid he is going to waive his rights to a speedy trial,” the post read. “If he does, trial will not be starting on Oct. 2 and it is very likely that it won’t take place for years. We want to get this trial over. Just thinking it could be years absolutely kills me.”
‘Absolutely the right move’
Taylor requested the Wednesday hearing last week, telling Judge she thought it would be quick, but asked that it be held in person rather than virtually. Kohberger joined her in attendance, dressed in a white shirt and gray tie, for the roughly 25-minute hearing.
Boise-based criminal defense attorney Edwina Elcox said the amount of evidence and complexities of the Kohberger case, combined with its previously scheduled tight turnaround, made it “virtually impossible” for the trial to happen on time.
“It was absolutely the right move in a case like this,” she said in a phone interview with the Statesman. “There’s benefits to both sides. If the prosecution gets a conviction out of this, it insulates against arguments of ineffective assistance of counsel because defense attorneys said they don’t have time to properly prepare for this trial.”
Elcox predicted the trial would take place sometime next year, estimating it could happen as soon as the spring.
Taylor on Wednesday also said the defense planned to file motions in the coming days to take the death penalty off the table as a potential punishment for Kohberger if he is convicted, and concerning cameras in the courtroom. Prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Kohberger in June.
Kohberger, a former graduate student in the criminal justice and criminology department at Washington State University, was arrested in December while visiting his family in eastern Pennsylvania on a break from school. The break in the case ended a nearly eight-week manhunt. Kohberger was flown to Idaho on Jan. 4 and made his first court appearance in the state on the charges the next day.
Kohberger has remained in custody at the Latah County Jail, in the basement of the county courthouse, awaiting his trial for nearly eight months.
The next scheduled court appearance for Kohberger remains Sept. 1, when Judge will hear the defense’s motion to dismiss the grand jury indictment based on arguments that the jurors did not receive proper instructions, and that the indictment didn’t meet the necessary legal threshold. A grand jury is a secretive process in which defendants, their defense and the public are not allowed to attend.
The prosecution filed its objection to the defense’s motion to dismiss the indictment last week. The pretrial schedule will be updated on account of Kohberger waiving his speedy trial right Wednesday, with all other court deadlines now vacated.
Judge’s eventual ruling on the defense’s motion to dismiss the grand jury indictment will factor heavily into when the trial is scheduled, Taylor told the court Wednesday. Judge and Thompson agreed.