Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Bryan Kohberger, the man charged in the gruesome stabbings of four University of Idaho students last November. A Latah County prosecutor filed a notice of his intent to seek capital punishment for Kohberger on Monday, roughly one month after he pleaded not guilty. Kohberger reportedly stared blankly ahead and didn’t speak when asked how he pleaded, forcing the judge to enter the not guilty plea for him.
Kohberger, a 28-year-old former University of Washington graduate student, is charged with the murder of four Idaho students: Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20. Prosecutors say they’re pursuing the death penalty because the killings were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel,” and Kohberger “exhibited utter disregard for human life.”
Since Kohberger was indicted on May 22, under Idaho law, prosecutors had 60 days to file to seek the death penalty against him. News Nation reported earlier this month that prosecutors sought the input of victims’ family members over whether to do so—a typical practice in cases like this—with some expressing public support for this measure. Families of Goncalves and Mogen reportedly supported the death penalty for Kohberger, while Kernodle’s mother opposed it.
“There is no one more deserving than the Defendant in this case. We continue to pray for all the victims families and appreciate all the support we have received,” Goncalves’ family said in a statement on Monday, thanking prosecutors for seeking the death penalty.
Defense attorneys for Kohberger claim in a new court filing over the weekend that no DNA of any of the victims was found in Kohberger’s home or vehicle, and that “there is no connection between Mr. Kohberger and the victims.” Kohberger’s legal team also filed motions asking the Latah County District Court to order prosecutors to submit more evidence, including DNA evidence gathered from the investigation of the crime scene, as well as searches of Kohberger’s phone and digital footprint and the surveillance footage used to identify him. The Associated Press reports that these motions are among several that will be argued at a Tuesday hearing.
Kohberger evaded police suspicion for several weeks after the students were killed in their home, but was arrested in December at his parents’ home. Cell phone data suggests he visited the area surrounding the house before and after that day, and he also appears to have repeatedly messaged one of the victims on Instagram prior to the killings.
The Idaho slayings, and certainly Kohberger, have sparked significant cultural fascination, giving way to harmful, baseless conspiracy theories about the surviving roommates of the victims, as well as the predictable, bizarre thirst for Kohberger in some deranged corners of the internet.
Experts have speculated for months that the death penalty could be on the table for Kohberger, and his refusal to plead guilty and possibly make a plea deal to evade the death penalty only increased the risk of this. The case is set to go to trial on Oct. 2 and is expected to last six weeks.