Idaho murders: Bryan Kohberger defense 'firmly believes' in suspect's innocence

Lawyers for the Washington State University criminology Ph.D. student accused of massacring four University of Idaho undergrads in a home invasion stabbing told the judge Wednesday that they "firmly" believe their client is innocent.

Bryan Kohberger, a 29-year-old from Pennsylvania, returned to the Latah County courthouse in Moscow, Idaho, for an afternoon hearing on defense efforts for a change of venue that included a controversial survey that prompted the judge to ban both sides from contacting potential jurors.

"Our defense team firmly, and I mean firmly, believes in Mr. Kohberger's innocence, and right now he's being held to have a trial in a county that believes that he is guilty," Elisa Massoth, a Payette-based defense attorney who once attended the same school as the four victims.

She is a death penalty certified lawyer called in to assist Kohberger, who faces four counts of first-degree murder and a charge of felony burglary in the November 2022 stabbing deaths of Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin in a rental house on the edge of the University of Idaho campus.

Massoth went on to tell the judge that denying a change of venue amounted to denying Kohberger's constitutionally protected right to a fair trial, based on data in the disputed survey.

Two questions in the disputed survey were not part of that public record, he said. One of them, according to the defense expert and survey conductor Bryan Edelman, was about Kohberger stalking at least one of the victims. 

It has been widely reported, based on allegations in a probable cause statement unsealed after Kohberger's extradition to Idaho, that he stalked the six-bedroom home on King Road at least a dozen times before the attack and returned one more time about five hours after the murders.

Bill Thompson, the Latah County prosecuting attorney, slammed Taylor's defense strategy and said she appeared to be aimed at tainting the jury pool.

Edelman, who testified as an expert witness for the defense, said Thompson's critical lens over his work left him "angry" even while conceding he included questions that he knew contained false information.  

Massoth pulled statistics from the disputed survey that she claimed show 81% of people who responded had heard about the stalking allegation and "took a position" that Kohberger is "guilty."

She argued that "you can't taint what's tainted," claiming another 79% of the defense's respondents "knew five or more prejudicial and false media reports."


Bryan Kohberger's lawyer alleges public bias, requests change of venue

Bryan Kohberger's lead lawyer has accused the public of bias against her client, who is suspected of killing four University of Idaho students, after Latah County residents called police to report a defense expert had contacted them for a survey.

"These are deeply held opinions in this community, within this jury pool," she said. 

Judge John Judge said the "public record" on the case is limited to the case file itself – much of which is sealed – and does not include posts on social media or news reports.

He put a temporary halt on the survey, barring both sides from contacting potential jurors in the case, after the prosecution raised issues about the questions last month. He has not yet decided whether the polling can resume. 

Some of the questions read aloud in court include: "Have you read, seen or heard about Bryan Kohberger's arrest at his parents' home in Pennsylvania?," "Have you read, seen or heard if police found a knife sheath on the bed next to one of the victims?" and "Have you read, seen or heard that DNA found on the knife sheath was later matched to Bryan Kohberger?"

Mark Calzaretta, a jury consultant and founding partner at Magna Legal Services, told Fox News Digital that surveys are common practice when the defense is seeking a change of venue.

However, he added, questions are typically tailored to be less specific about particular details in a case and more focused on potential bias itself.

"If I'm trying to elicit bias as a jury consultant, I don't care what their knowledge is about the case, what specific facts they know," he said. "What I want to know is based on what you know, does that tie to the fact that now, just a mere hearing of his name, he's guilty?"

He said if more than 70% to 80% of respondents say yes, the jury pool is "tainted."

However, he said, the defense always has a built-in plan B. If the survey is not enough to convince the judge to grant a change of venue, it will usually still lead to a more rigorous jury selection process.

Regardless, he said he'd never seen respondents so concerned by a survey before that they reported it to police, as happened in Latah County.

"If they all had that reaction, there's something in that survey that’s maybe over the top," he said. "Then maybe not, and there is a bias, and that’s why they reacted like that."

The court scheduled a number of follow-up hearings and deadlines.

The defense is pushing for a change of venue to a larger county with more potential jurors in the jury pool, suggesting Ada, Bonneville and Bannock counties.

Judge will hear arguments on the potential change of venue at 10 a.m. on June 27, and Kohberger's deadline to submit an alibi is next week.

Judge entered not guilty pleas to all of the charges on Kohberger's behalf at his arraignment last year.


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