Bryan Kohberger, 28, was arrested in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania on December 30, 2022 for the November 13, 2022 quadruple homicide of four University of Idaho students in Moscow, Idaho.
The four students were killed in the second and third floors of an off-campus residence on King Road. Xana Kernodle, 20, was found deceased on the floor of her bedroom on the second floor of the house. She had wounds which were consistent with having been caused by a sharp weapon. Ethan Chapin, 20, was found deceased in the same room as Kernodle. In his autopsy report, his cause of death was listed as being due to sharp force injuries.
Kaylee Goncalves, 21, was found deceased in the bed in her bedroom on the third floor. Lying next to her was the body of Madison Mogen, 21. Stab wounds on both women were visible, and a leather knife sheath was located on the bed, next to Mogen’s right side. The sheath is described as being face down, and partially under Mogen’s body and the comforter.
A DNA profile of a single male suspect was developed from biological tissue located on the button snap of the knife sheath. The knife that was stamped with U.S. Marine Corps insignia, including “Ka-Bar”. The knife itself, which may be the murder weapon, has not been located. The DNA profile was submitted to CODIS, but there were no hits to profiles already in the database.
The FGG investigation was conducted by the FBI in partnership with the Moscow Police Department. At first, an unnamed private laboratory was engaged to generate a SNP profile and perform the genealogical research. It was later determined that the FBI would take over the investigation. The initial confirmation was made to DNA belonging to Bryan’s father, and that was taken from the trash outside of the family residence in Albright, Pennsylvania, on December 27, 2022. Kinship testing indicated that the subject was most likely the father of the suspect whose DNA was found on the Ka-Bar knife sheath.
The final confirmation was made by comparing the DNA found on the Ka-Bar knife sheath with that of Kohberger himself. This produced a Random Match Probability (RMP) of 5.37×1027 (octillion), which indicates the probability that this DNA profile is expected to be found in an individual in the population, selected at random.
Investigators have indicated that there is other evidence against Kohberger. This includes telephone records from AT&T that Kohberger turned off his cell phone between the hours of 2:47 and 4:48 am, when the murders took place. There were two residents of the home who survived the attack. One, D.M., heard crying upstairs and saw a male walk past her. The male suspect was at least 5’10’’, athletic but not very muscular, and he had bushy eyebrows. He was wearing a mask that covered the lower part of his face. A latent shoe print consistent with a Vans type shoe, was found outside D.M.’s bedroom.
Surveillance video showed a vehicle driving in the area near the time of the murders – between 3:29 and 4:20 am. It drove away from the area at a high rate of speed at around 4:20 am. Investigators believed the vehicle to be a white Hyundai Elantra, likely from the years 2011-2016. Kohberger has a 2015 white Elantra registered to his name. The vehicle was registered in Pennsylvania which, unlike Idaho and Washington states, does not require a front license plate. This is consistent with the vehicle seen on the video.
Kohberger was a doctoral student in the criminology department at the nearby Washington State University at the time of the murders. A possible motive for the killings has not yet been put forward. Investigators have stated that Kohberger had sent one of the female victims several direct messages on Instagram, to which she did not respond. It has been hypothesized that the murders were femicides motivated by hatred against women stemming from the Intel movement.
Kohberger is facing four charges of first-degree murder and one count of burglary in Latah County District Court. A not guilty plea was entered by the judge after the accused stood silent on his plea, and he is being held without bail.
The case is legally significant because the defence has asked for disclosure relating to the FGG investigation. On June 16, 2023 the prosecution sought a protection order to block information about the FGG investigation, or the relatives on Kohberger’s family tree, from being publicly disclosed. The prosecution has argued that the FGG investigation does not tend to negate the defendant’s guilt or lessen his punishment, nor is it exculpatory, and is therefore not subject to disclosure. Police are not required to account to the accused for all investigatory work that has been done on a case.
The prosecution has also stated that they do not intend to introduce at trial evidence relating to the FGG investigation. The prosecution has argued that the defendant does not have a property interest in any DNA that was abandoned at a crime scene, or in the genealogical and genetic information of his relatives. They have argued that the disclosure of this evidence in such a high-profile case will harm the privacy of the defendant’s relatives and the users of these services. They state that this follows from the same principle that would protect any informant who has provided information relating to an investigation to a law enforcement officer.
Finally, they have argued that the evidence is not material to the preparation of the defence. The defence has not yet disclosed in what respect they find the evidence to be material.
In their response of June 22, 2023, Kohberger’s defence stated that the information is relevant to his defence for a number of reasons. They stated that the DNA profiles of three unknown males have been found at or near the crime scene: two in the King Road house and one on a glove found outside the home on November 20, 2022. The defence wants to know what testing was performed on these profiles, and seems to be suggesting that there may be alternative suspects.
The defence has also argued that the police investigation may have been compromised by tunnel vision, such that they suspected Kohberger early on, and then deliberately or unconsciously managed the evidence to more clearly implicate him. They have argued that they are entitled to know how, when, and why Kohberger first came to investigators’ attention. They have also suggested that the FGG investigation and family tree may disclose alternative suspects that the FBI ignored.
The defence also raised the possibility that the FBI was using DNA databases that do not permit law enforcement access, or otherwise misusing personal information. They have also suggested that the DNA may have been planted on the sheath by investigators seeking to inculpate Kohberger.
Under Idaho law, the defence is required to disclose evidence they will present in court of an alibi. Kohberger’s defence team filed a motion on August 2, 2023, indicating that he was out driving alone at the time of the murders, and that there are no witnesses who can corroborate his whereabouts.
These matters are currently being reviewed by the court.
On August 9, 2023, Kohberger’s defence team filed an affidavit from Leah Larkin. Dr. Larkin is an expert in genetic genealogy who has developed many tools used by the genetic genealogical community. In her affidavit, Dr. Larkin describes the process of genetic genealogy and sets out her concerns regarding privacy and consent. She stats that she is aware of: 1) a case in which the chain of custody failed and the wrong SNP profile was sent to the wrong client; 2) the uploading of SNP profiles to consumer DNA sites that forbid this; 3) FGG being used for a case that did not meet the standards set out in the Department of Justice’s Interim policy threshold; 4) security loopholes at GEDMatch that allow genetic genealogists to see kits that are opted out of law enforcement matching; and 5) a case in which a SNP profile was performed on an innocent woman without her consent. No details are provided about these cases.
Issue 2) may refer to Case ID 1991, the identification of Juana Rosas-Zagal, and where Dr. Larkin has written on this allegation. Issue 3) may refer to Case ID 1939 and the identification of William Arnold who escaped from prison for the double murder of his parents and was a wanted fugitive. Dr. Larkin criticized the use of FGG in this case because she disagreed that there was a public safety issue at stake, as required by the DOJ Interim Policy.
On 17 August 2023, investigative genetic genealogist Gabriella Vargas filed an affidavit on behalf of the defence. She testified that databases used for FGG have loopholes that allow a genetic genealogist to view matches that have not agreed to opt-in for law enforcement matching, contrary to the terms and conditions of their use. She also stated that practitioners of FGG have been uploading law enforcement samples to these sites as consumers to avoid paying fees associated with law enforcement use, which is also against the terms and conditions of the sites.
Vargas testified to these matters at the pre-trial hearing on August 18, 2023. The hearing was to determine whether and how much of the materials genetic genealogical materials would be disclosed to the defence.
On that same day, Jordan Smith published similar information in The Intercept. Information was provided that there was a loophole in GEDMatch, which permitted FGG investigators to search profiles that had not opted-in to law enforcement matching. In some cases, identifications were made using kits that had opted-out. This is described as a long-known secret in the field – one that was publicly revealed at the Ramapo College IGG Conference, July 28-30, 2023.
Smith also mentioned the case of Juana Rosas-Zagal, and the allegations that a profile was uploaded to MyHeritage in that case. Neither the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office nor the DA commented on the matter. Smith also raised the issue that individuals were being asked to do target testing and in so doing provide investigators access to their matches, also in violation of the terms of service. None of the consumer DNA companies commented on these matters.
In response, Margaret Press of the DNA Doe Project issued a statement admitting that the organization made a mistake when it made use of tools at GEDmatch to view profiles that had not opted-in to law enforcement matching, between May of 2019 and January of 2021. She stated that this reflected the culture and thinking at a time when GEDmatch opted all profiles out of law enforcement matching, and began to require users to opt-in. She stated that this was wrong and that she regrets doing so.
Application for a Search Warrant. State of Washington, County of Whitman. SW No. 12-29-2022A. January 17, 2023.
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Idaho v Kohberger. Declaration of Gabriella Vargas. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, August 17, 2023.
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Idaho v Kohberger. Notice of Filing Declaration of Bicka Barlow in Support of Defendant’s Third Motion to Compel. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, June 22, 2023.
Idaho v Kohberger. Objection to the State’s Motion to Compel “Motive of Defence of Alibi” or, Alternatively to Bar Certain Evidence. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, August 2, 2023.
Idaho v Kohberger. Objection to State’s Motion for Protective Order. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, June 22, 2023.
Idaho v Kohberger. State’s Motion for Protective Order. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, June 16, 2023.
Idaho v Kohberger. State’s Response to Defendant’s Third Supplemental Request for Discovery. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, May 12, 2023.
Lambe, Jerry. “READ: Newly Unsealed Bryan Kohberger Warrant – ‘Reddish/Brown’ Stain Found in Accused Killer’s Home.” Law & Crime, January 18, 2023. Accessed June 23, 2023. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/read-newly-unsealed-bryan-kohberger-warrant-reddish-brown-stain-found-in-accused-killers-home/.
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Levy, Angenette. “DNA, Genetic Genealogy Focus of Bryan Kohberger Hearing in Idaho Four Murder.” Law & Crime, August 18, 2023. https://lawandcrime.com/high-profile/dna-genetic-genealogy-focus-of-bryan-kohberger-hearing-in-idaho-four-murders/.
Press, Margaret. “From Our Founder, Margaret Press.” DNA Doe Project, August 18, 2023. Accessed August 21, 2023. https://dnadoeproject.org/statement-from-Margaret-Press/.
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Statement of Brett Payne. Exhibit A to Affidavit. In the District Court of the Second Judicial District of the State of Idaho, in and of the County of Latah, Case Number CR29-22-0002805, December 29, 2022.