(CNN) — Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of stabbing four Idaho college students to death, sat wordlessly in court during his appearance Monday as a judge read aloud the murder and robbery charges against him. and asked if the suspect was prepared to announce his statement.
In lieu of his statement, Kohberger’s attorney responded, “Your Honor, we will remain silent.”
This unconventional legal strategy, also known as “staying mute,” is based on an Idaho criminal rule that requires the judge to then enter a plea of not guilty on behalf of the defendant, allowing the judge to avoid verbally committing to guilt or innocence. .
“It doesn’t matter what he says or doesn’t say,” Seattle attorney Anne Bremner told CNN. “Either way, she’s on the record with a plea of not guilty.”
Although highly unusual, keeping silent is not unheard of. The tactic was also used in the case against Nikolas Cruz, the shooter responsible for the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
As his October trial looms, Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery in the Nov. 13 murders of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, at an off-campus home in Moscow, Idaho.
Although a sweeping gag order has largely withheld details of the case from the public, investigators have stated that Kohberger, a graduate student in the Department of Criminology at nearby Washington State University, broke into the victims’ home and stabbed him repeatedly before fleeing the scene.
The gruesome murders and the protracted investigation plunged the university campus and the surrounding city into uncertainty and apprehension. After nearly seven weeks, Kohberger was apprehended and identified as the suspected killer.
According to Samuel Newton, a University of Idaho law professor, there are a number of reasons defendants may choose to “remain silent,” especially in a case as high-profile and highly scrutinized as Kohberger’s.
The defendant may want to avoid criticism that might flow from a certain statement, Newton said. A plea of not guilty, for example, can spark public outrage for not taking responsibility for his alleged acts, he explained.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys may also be negotiating behind the scenes, potentially discussing a plea deal, Newton said.
Bremner dismissed the idea that the move might indicate that Kohberger’s attorney might be considering a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, because there is no insanity defense in Idaho.
Or, Newton added, it could simply be that the defendant is being difficult and doesn’t want to cooperate.
Bremner echoed that possibility, saying, “Maybe he’s just trying to be defiant or trying to show that he’s the smartest guy in the room.” He took aim at Kohberger’s background as a criminology student, noting, “He knew enough about criminology studies to make an impact.”
What’s next for Kohberger?
Kohberger has been in prison without bail since he was arrested in December at his parents’ home in Pennsylvania and transferred to Idaho, where he awaits trial.
The trial is scheduled to begin on October 2 and last about six weeks.
Prosecutors have 60 days from Monday to announce, in writing, whether they plan to seek the death penalty in their case against him.
Two hearings are also scheduled for June 9, which will address petitions filed by a lawyer representing the Gonçalves family and by a coalition of media outlets, regarding concerns about the wide scope of the gag order on the case.
The restriction currently prohibits prosecutors, defense attorneys, lawyers for victims’ families, and witnesses from speaking publicly about details of the case that are not already in the public domain.
Investigators detail evidence against suspect
Following Kohberger’s arrest, investigators exposed some of the evidence that led them to identify the 28-year-old as a suspect, including surveillance footage, witness statements and DNA evidence.
A key lead was surveillance footage of a white Hyundai Elantra near the victims’ home that night, according to a probable cause affidavit. The vehicle, which was later found by police at Washington State University near Pullman, Wash., was registered to Kohberger, according to authorities.
The information on Kohberger’s driver’s license matched the description of the suspect provided to police by one of the victims’ surviving roommates, according to authorities.
The roommate told investigators that she saw a masked figure dressed in black in the house the morning of the murders, according to an affidavit. She described the person as “a man 5’7″ or taller, not very muscular, but with an athletic build and bushy eyebrows.”
As the investigation continued, Kohberger drove across the country to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania, arriving a week before Christmas, Monroe County chief public defender Jason LaBar told CNN in December.
There, investigators were eventually able to connect Kohberger to the crime scene by linking DNA found in trash collected from his family home with DNA from a leather knife sheath found next to one of the victims. , according to the affidavit.
Following the suspect’s arrest, a cache of items was seized from the Pennsylvania home, including a cell phone, black gloves, black masks, laptop computers, a Smith and Wesson penknife and a knife in a leather sheath, according to a record. of tests.
Authorities also seized a white 2015 Hyundai Elantra that an attorney for the suspect previously said he had used to drive, accompanied by his father, to his parents’ house for the holidays.
The vehicle was dismantled by investigators, who collected parts, fibers and swabs for further examination, court documents show.
CNN’s Dakin Andone, Jason Kravarik, Alaa Elassar, Eric Levenson, Emma Tucker and Pamela Brown contributed to this article.