BOISE, Idaho – Defense attorneys for a man accused of stabbing four University of Idaho students to death asked the Idaho Supreme Court on Friday to keep a gag order in place, saying a challenge to the order filed by 30 news organizations is premature and that media coverage of the case has been “twisted.”
The defense team for Bryan Kohberger argued in a court filing that the news organizations should have first asked the magistrate judge who issued the gag order to reverse it, though they acknowledged the state has no rule specifically allowing outside parties to intervene in criminal cases.
“What the media really seeks here is a procedural victory, knowing full well it cannot win on the merits of any test, given the pervasive and grotesquely twisted nature of media coverage that has occurred thus far,” Jay Weston Logsdon, with the Kootenai County Public Defender's office, wrote in the court document. Logsdon did not cite any examples of what he believed to be “twisted” media coverage.
Kohberger, 28, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and burglary in connection with the stabbing deaths in Moscow, Idaho. Prosecutors have yet to reveal if they intend to seek the death penalty.
The bodies of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin were found on Nov. 13, 2022, at a rental home across the street from the University of Idaho campus. The slayings shocked the rural Idaho community and neighboring Pullman, Washington, where Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at Washington State University.
The case garnered widespread publicity, and in January Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued the sweeping gag order, barring attorneys, law enforcement agencies and others associated with the case from talking or writing about it.
The coalition of news organizations, which includes The Associated Press, contends the gag order violates the right to free speech by prohibiting it from happening in the first place.
An attorney representing the family of one of the victims has also filed an opposition to the gag order in state court. Shannon Grey, who represents the Goncalves family, said in that challenge that the gag order is unduly broad and places an undue burden on the families. Marshall said a hearing on the matter would be held after the Idaho Supreme Court issues a ruling on the news organizations' challenge.
Kohbergers' attorneys contend the gag order essentially requires the attorneys involved in the case to act ethically to ensure Kohberger gets a fair trial.
“This is not a case where the attorneys seek to use the rules as a weapon against one another. It is a case where a young man is on trial for his life,” Logsdon wrote. “There was nothing inappropriate about the Magistrate Court reminding the attorneys involved of their ethical obligations.”
High-publicity cases often present a conundrum for judges, who work to protect the defendant's right to a fair trial. Courts sometimes feel that controlling the flow of information around the case — by forbidding those involved from talking about it — is an effective way to limit publicity.
But gag orders can infringe on the First Amendment rights of the public and of the people involved in the case. News organizations that cover the courts serve a watchdog role, keeping the public informed about how the judicial branch operates.
During the investigation into the University of Idaho students' slayings, news organizations' interviews with investigators and law enforcement officials often worked to quash misinformation spread online by people who styled themselves as sleuths on social media sites.