Prosecutors in Idaho said they planned to seek the death penalty against the man accused of murdering four University of Idaho students in a home near campus last fall.
Why It Matters: The killings were ‘especially heinous.’
Bill Thompson, the top prosecutor in Latah County, wrote in a court filing on Monday that the nature of the November killings — stabbings that occurred in the middle of the night and went unsolved for several weeks — met the standard for the kind of aggravating factors that warrant seeking the death penalty. Among them, he said: The suspect, Bryan Kohberger, is charged with committing multiple murders; the killings were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel”; and Mr. Kohberger had “exhibited utter disregard for human life.”
Mr. Kohberger, 28, who at the time of the killings was studying criminology in a Ph.D. program at neighboring Washington State University, has said through a lawyer that he expects to be exonerated. At a hearing last month, Mr. Kohberger declined to enter a plea, leading the judge to enter a not-guilty plea on his behalf.
Idaho has not executed any prisoner since 2012, and Mr. Thompson noted that he was allowed, by law, to change his mind later and reverse his decision to seek the death penalty. In March, Idaho became the latest state to authorize the use of firing squads to carry out executions in response to increasing difficulty in obtaining lethal injection drugs.
The family members of one victim, Kaylee Goncalves, said in a statement on Monday that they were grateful the prosecutors were pursuing the death penalty.
“There is no one more deserving than the defendant in this case,” they said.
Background: Prosecutors say DNA matching the suspect was found at the scene.
Mr. Kohberger, who has been in jail since he was arrested in December at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, is scheduled to go on trial in October. The authorities have not given any indication of what they believe Mr. Kohberger’s motive might have been.
The four student victims — Ms. Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20 — were killed in a house near campus during the early morning hours of Nov. 13.
For weeks, investigators were unable to identify a suspect, but they ultimately began focusing on Mr. Kohberger after using genetic genealogy, a technique previously used primarily in cold cases that compares crime scene DNA against profiles on consumer ancestry websites, allowing the police to try to build a family tree.
The authorities have said that Mr. Kohberger’s DNA was linked to a knife sheath found on a bed next to one of the victims. They also said video footage showed a white vehicle circling the neighborhood around the time that investigators believe the killings occurred. Mr. Kohberger drove a white sedan.
What’s Next: The defense wants DNA records.
A hearing is set for Tuesday, in which Mr. Kohberger’s lawyers are seeking access to records about how investigators handled the DNA in the case.