Today we’re taking about Bryan Kohberger, who was recently arrested for the murder of four University of Idaho students. Defending him, in the face of the evidence Idaho authorities have gathered, points to an uphill climb. But experience tells me there can always be surprises — I’ve got a few stray thoughts about that.
Let’s start, however, with the findings revealed in the Probable Cause affidavit.
Evidence of Guilt
Kohberger’s DNA on the sheath of the presumed murder weapon, found at the crime scene. Cell phone records placing Kohberger near the rental house on multiple occasions. Video surveillance showing his vehicle not only near (or at) the scene, but enroute between his apartment in Pullman and the crime scene in Moscow. From some, this is an open-and-shut case. In fact, most of the online chatter is about how guilty he is. Let’s take an opposite tack.
What could possibly get him off? Looking at defense strategies in cases such as these, several thoughts emerge. Remember: all the defense has to do is establish reasonable doubt in a jury’s mind. Only one juror has to come around to that view. Yeah. A hold out. Someone who hates the cops or thinks there are too many holes in the prosecution case. Bryan Kohberger could still be found not guilty.
Number One: Attack the police investigation. Claim Kohberger was railroaded by desperate cops. Desperate because they faced unrelenting criticism for their failure to solve the case. There’s plenty of this to go around. Some of it coming from the victims’ relatives.
Number Two: Get into the details proving the above assertion. Make a full frontal assault on police mistakes (or allegations thereof). By their own admission, the police agencies noted that this is/was a complex case. Doubtless they made errors. Maybe major errors. Maybe catastrophic errors. Those will soon find their way into the record. And the defense will pick them apart.
Number Three: Keep as much evidence as possible out of the trial. This one is related to the above strategy. Where there are errors — for instance, gathering evidence without sufficient probable cause or logging it incorrectly or violating chain of custody — there are grounds for excluding evidence.
One example: authorities gathered DNA evidence from his parent’s garbage can — and then sent it to Idaho for processing. There is ample opportunity for contamination (or cross-contamination) along the way. The defense will also examine the case record of the Idaho forensics lab. Kohberger’s attorney is Anne Taylor, the chief public defender for Idaho’s Kootenai county. She will know the lab’s propensity for making mistakes — or their record of probity.
Also: as tempting as the knife sheath is, it was not the sheath that killed the Idaho students. They still need the murder weapon.
Bottom Line: Lose the DNA putting him at the scene and you lose one of your most potent arguments for his guilt. Lose the knife evidence and you also lose the presumed murder weapon. Those are not stray pieces of evidence, They’re vital strands of evidence with huge implications.
Stray Thoughts, Stray Evidence
But… There’s always a but. Moscow authorities have declared that, even with Kohberger’s arrest, they still have considerable work to do. That’s correct. They have to round up what may amount to a vast array of stray evidence.
They will examine his car for additional DNA evidence. Not his. The victims’. These murders were “wet” ones. There was lots of blood. No way he didn’t carry some of that blood to his vehicle. And, for that matter, to his apartment. Some of the victims fought back as he assaulted them. That’s also fertile ground for DNA evidence. Are there scrapings of his DNA under their fingernails? And what about the Van’s shoe prints they found at the murder scene?
Police can also retrace his escape route after the murders. Kohberger apparently drove south of Moscow in a roundabout return to Pullman. It’s a lot of turf to cover, but worth it if they can recover the murder weapon. If all else fails, defense attorney Taylor can trade a guilty plea for dropping the death penalty.
If, of course, that is even on the table.
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2023). All rights reserved.
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