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Defense for Moscow murder suspect Bryan Kohberger granted expanded access to DNA records

Bryan Kohberger listens to arguments during a hearing to overturn his grand jury indictment on Oct. 26, 2023, in Moscow, Idaho. Bryan Kohberger is charged with four counts of first-degree murder in the stabbing deaths of four University of Idaho students in November 2022. A judge has allowed his defense team expanded review privileges to sealed DNA records central to his case. (Kai Eiselein/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)  (Kai Eiselein/Getty Images)
By Kevin Fixler Idaho Statesman

The man awaiting trial on charges of killing four University of Idaho students secured access for investigators working on his behalf to sealed DNA records central to how police first landed on him as the suspect.

At the request of attorneys for defendant Bryan Kohberger, the judge overseeing the widely watched capital murder case expanded review privileges to the protected information as he continues to mount his legal defense. The court’s ruling came after a closed-door hearing on the issue held last month.

State prosecutors initially fought release of documents to the defense concerning the use of investigative genetic genealogy, or IGG, which they eventually lost in court. The advanced policing technique involves submitting DNA found at a crime scene to public genealogy websites to build a family tree and narrow the list of possible suspects in violent crimes.

Judge John Judge of Idaho’s 2nd Judicial District in Latah County ruled last year that the defense had met the “low threshold” needed to show that at least some of the IGG records are “material to the preparation” of their client’s case.

But the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office, which is leading the prosecution of Kohberger, did not appear to formally object to allowing defense investigators to inspect the DNA records. Over the defense’s insistence, Judge did grant the prosecution’s request that the hearing be closed to the public.

Kohberger, 29, is accused in the stabbing deaths of the four U of I students at an off-campus Moscow rental home in mid-November 2022. The victims were seniors Madison Mogen and Kaylee Goncalves, both 21, junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin, both 20.

Kohberger, a Washington State University graduate student in nearby Pullman, Washington, at the time of the quadruple homicide, was arrested in eastern Pennsylvania about seven weeks later in late December 2022. He was back home on the East Coast visiting his family during winter break from school, and brought back west to answer to the charges.

Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony burglary. Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if he is convicted at an eventual trial, which still does not have a scheduled date.

Unsealing of IGG records left unaddressed

Kohberger’s attorneys also asked that most of the IGG records, which state prosecutors had to acquire from the FBI after its investigators assisted in the high-profile homicide case, be unsealed and made public. They agreed that the identities of relatives to Kohberger included in the family tree process should remain withheld from the public.

Judge did not address the defense’s request to unseal additional IGG records in his ruling that expanded Kohberger’s public defense team’s access to the documents.

In a separate hearing open to the public last month, the two sides in the case argued over the release of other evidence that the defense has requested through the legal process known as discovery. It was revealed at that hearing that a federal grand jury was used to issue dozens of subpoenas for information in the case against Kohberger.

The parents of victim Kaylee Goncalves have consistently vented frustrations about the length of time the case has taken – more than 17 months and counting since Kohberger’s arrest – to bring to trial. A twice-delayed hearing is scheduled for Aug. 29 to hear arguments over whether to move the expected trial elsewhere in Idaho from where the county crime took place.

“The court needs to take control of the case and the attorneys involved,” the Goncalves family said in a statement obtained by the Idaho Statesman after the two hearings last month. “As long as the court continues to entertain anything and everything at every hearing, the delay will never end. … The victims’ families want justice, but, just as importantly, we want the case to move forward.”

Another pretrial hearing in the case to set additional dates and deadlines is newly scheduled for June 27.