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June 27, 2023

Death penalty to be sought for Bryan Kohberger, the Pa. man charged in University of Idaho killings

Prosecutors say the case meets the state's standards for capital punishment, including an 'utter disregard for human life'

Investigations Homicides

Bryan Kohberger, 28, is charged with killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022. Prosecutors say they intend to seek the death penalty.

Prosecutors in Idaho plan to seek the death penalty in the homicide case against Bryan Kohberger, the Pennsylvania man accused of fatally stabbing four University of Idaho students at an off-campus home last November.

Ahead of a court hearing Tuesday, Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson filed a notice outlining several "aggravating circumstances" that he said warrant a death sentence. Kohberger's trial is scheduled to begin in early October.

Thompson alleges Kohberger showed "utter disregard for human life" and that the case meets the state's death penalty standards because it involves multiple slayings that were especially heinous and an alleged burglary.

Kohberger, 28, is accused of killing Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 20; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20, at a home on King Road in Moscow on Nov. 13. At the time, Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at the University of Washington, located about 10 miles west of Moscow.

Kohberger was arrested Dec. 30 at his parents' home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania. He had driven back from Washington with his father earlier that month. The Monroe County community is about a 90-minute drive northeast of Philadelphia.

The case against Kohberger is based on several pieces of evidence gathered during the investigation, including DNA allegedly obtained from a knife sheath found near Mogen's body. Authorities also used cell phone records and surveillance video to track Kohberger's movements in his white Hyundai Elantra, which they said was seen leaving the area of the students' home around the time of their deaths. Kohberger's car allegedly had been in the vicinity of the property on at least 12 occasions before Nov. 13, according to court documents.

Kohberger, who has maintained his innocence, is facing four counts of first-degree murder and felony burglary.

Three executions have happened in Idaho since the state enacted a new death penalty law in 1977. The last was in 2012, when a man convicted of a 1984 murder was killed by lethal injection. 

There has a been a national shortage of the drugs used to carry out lethal injections, because many pharmaceutical companies have barred executioners from using their products. In March, Idaho joined four other states that have passed laws permitting the use of firing squads in the event that lethal injection drugs are unavailable. 

Idaho has eight people on death row, including one man whose execution has been delayed twice due to the drug shortage. In the U.S., the last execution by firing squad happened in Utah in 2010. 

Defense attorneys for Kohberger contend that prosecutors have withheld evidence in the case, including the state's basis for determining a DNA match using genetic genealogy. Kohberger's attorneys have questioned, for example, why DNA profiles from three other males developed during the investigation have not been turned over to the defense.

Idaho is required to notify defendants of the intent to seek the death penalty within 60 days of a plea being entered. At a court hearing in May, Kohberger declined to enter a plea, but the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf.

The state's plan to pursue the death penalty could extend the time it takes to bring the case to a resolution. If Kohberger is convicted, the defense will have a chance during the penalty phase of the trial to argue that he should be spared death to mitigating factors, which could include mental health issues and past abuse.

Kohberger is not known to have a violent past, but on Tuesday records came to light showing that he had been arrested in Pennsylvania in 2014 for stealing his sister's iPhone. Documents in the case, obtained by ABC News, said Kohberger's record had been expunged after he completed a pretrial program. He was 19 at the time, and it's unclear whether prosecutors will attempt to use this information in court. In February, high school friends and acquaintances of Kohberger told the Idaho Statesman that he had developed a heroin addiction when he was younger.