Five Things Everyone Wants to Know about the Idaho Murders

Everyone wants to know everything about the tragic murders that occurred in Idaho this November. And now you have a lawyer’s perspective on five questions that everyone is talking about. 

#1 Why Did It Take So Long to Get This Guy?

Just because you’re arrested doesn’t mean that you’ve committed a crime. Police can arrest citizens when there is a reasonable, articulable, suspicion that the citizen has committed a crime. Here, an arrest just means that the person has been taken into custody. Right now, Bryan Kohberger has been arrested and charged. Although he’s in custody, we need to remember that in our justice system, he’s still innocent until proven guilty. 

Here’s Why That Arrest Warrant Took so Long

Police don’t need arrest warrants for those who commit crimes in their presence, but if the crime was not committed in the presence of an officer, they will need to provide enough evidence to a judge, in order to have a warrant issued.  A warrant must set forth the reason for the arrest, the supporting evidence, and where the individual or evidence is expected to be found. The warrant allows the police to then detain and hold the suspect for questioning. And in order for police to get an arrest warrant, they need to have something more than probable cause. In Kohberger’s case, securing this warrant likely took a significant amount of time. Police found a knife sheath at the scene of the crime with DNA from an unknown male. Once Kohberger was identified as a potential suspect, they went to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania and obtained garbage from their home. Using this garbage, they were able to match DNA from the garbage to the DNA on the knife sheath, and confirm that the suspect had to be the biological son of the individual residing in the Pennsylvania home. 

I Thought DNA Was Instant!

Typically, an arresting officer writes a probable cause affidavit which contains all the evidence the police have against the suspect. If a prosecutor believes there’s enough evidence for a conviction, an arrest warrant is granted. Collecting the DNA evidence and waiting on lab results may likely caused a delay in the arrest. It takes a lot longer in reality than it does in the movies. I don’t think they wanted to take any chances with this guy. Wanting to be sure that they didn’t make any mistakes with this limited DNA sample, likely contributed to the reason it took so long to actually arrest him.  

#2 What’s Going to Happen Next? 

Criminal defense trials are notoriously lengthy and emotionally draining. We could very well be years away from a criminal trial and sentencing. So far, Kohberger has been extradited and arraigned. First, Kohberger needed to be extradited because the crimes were committed in Idaho, and Kohberger was found in Pennsylvania. During the extradition hearing, he was arraigned, meaning he was formally told of the charges that the State of Idaho brought against him, and it was decided that he’d be held without bail. His next court date is January 12th. Since Kohberger is looking at several felony charges, there will likely be a preliminary hearing to determine whether or not he’s fit to stand trial. During a preliminary hearing, the prosecutors will also have to prove that they have enough evidence to actually try the case. The legal proceedings can be further stalled by the discovery process. During the discovery process, the state is required to turn over any and all evidence they have which they believe supports Mr. Kohberger’s guilt, as well as any “excuplatory evidence,”or evidence which may support his innocence, or other potential suspects. The defense is required to thoroughly review and examine all of this evidence, and in a case of this nature it will likely take a lot of time. Given the national publicity in this case, there will likely be several pretrial motions by both the state and the defense before the trial begins. After the pretrial motions, it’ll be time to go to trial. However, in a case of this nature, it’s unlikely they’ll set a trial date for several years. Then jury deliberation will begin and they’ll attempt to reach a verdict. Sentencing: Assuming Mr. Kohberger is found guilty, the judge will have to set a separate hearing date during which each side can make their case for an appropriate sentencing. This will also be the opportunity for the family and friends of the victims to speak about the impact the loss of these victims has had on their lives. 

#3 What Kind of Sentence Is He Looking At?

At this point, it’s hard to say with any certainty what kind of sentence Kohberger may face. 

However, for the four murders alone, it’s very possible that he’ll be looking at life in prison. Idaho also has the death penalty, and given the magnitude of the crime, Kohberger may also face the death penalty. Interestingly, Idaho has not carried out an execution of a convicted individual since 2012. If faced with the death penalty, Kohberger may be offered a plea deal. Depending on how good a prosecutor’s case is against a defendant, some defendants enter into a guilty plea in order to escape the death penalty. Generally, a plea deal is offered to avoid the time, expense, and heartache facing victims’ families that inevitably comes with a lengthy trial. The State will likely extend such an offer to Mr. Kohberger in exchange for guilty pleas to some or all of the charges. Whether or not he is likely to accept the offer is a different matter.

#4 What’s the Probable Cause Affidavit?

As mentioned above, I talked about a probable cause affidavit. It’s the arresting officer’s statement of facts, under oath, detailing all the evidence they have against a suspect. In this particular case, the 19 page probable cause affidavit has been released. In short, it discusses  the supporting DNA evidence, location data from Kohberger’s phone, statements from a surviving roommate of the victims, details about Kohberger’s car, and more. This is the evidence that the police presented to prosecutors when they were attempting to get an arrest warrant. Though many were frustrated by the police’s tight lipped investigation, it should be known that they caught this guy in a remarkably short amount of time given the circumstances. Having this much evidence shows that the police are putting a lot of effort into making sure that they got the right guy.

#5 What Are His Chances of an Insanity Plea?

There have been reports of Kohberger exhibiting bizarre behavior while in custody (other reports, however have described his jail time as “uneventful”), leading many to speculate that he might be cooking up an insanity plea. In Idaho, he actually cannot plead not guilty by reason of insanity because Idaho eliminated mental conditions as a defense to murder in 1982. However, Idaho’s laws do allow for mental conditions to be used as a basis to reduce or minimize an individual’s sentence.