While the recently released probable cause affidavit presented a “strong circumstantial case” for University of Idaho quadruple murder suspect Bryan Kohberger, his former attorney said the evidence isn’t as clear-cut.
“When it’s viewed individually, you can attack that evidence as a defense attorney,” Jason LaBar, Chief Public Defender for Monroe County, PA, said to host Angenette Levy on Law&Crime’s Sidebar podcast. LaBar was the court-appointed attorney for Kohberger for five days following his arrest in Pennsylvania before the defendant was extradited to Idaho and hired a private attorney.
A prominent piece of evidence was the knife sheath found next to one of the victims, featuring Kohberger’s DNA on the button snap. LaBar shrugged this off as “touch DNA” or “transfer DNA.”
“Which would mean that it could remain on that sheath for an indefinite period of time, if undisturbed,” he explained. “That’s one way of attacking that type of evidence that doesn’t put him at the scene of the crime the night out, just that he merely touched that sheath at some point in time.”
LaBar said there is no other direct evidence linking Kohberger to the fatal stabbings of college students Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin. Even the suspected white Hyundai Elantra, which was allegedly seen at the victims’ off-campus house before and during the supposed time of the murders, appears circumstantial. For one, the police went off cellphone pings rather than GPS coordinates.
“If it was GPS location coordinates, you’re talking down to a meter as to where Bryan Kohberger was at the time of these crimes, whereas a cellphone tower ping is that you’re within a radius of that tower up to 20 miles,” LaBar explained. “And obviously, Mr. Kohberger lived within ten miles of the University of Idaho where these crimes were committed. So certainly he could ping at any moment in time near the actual crime.”
Even the fact that one of the surviving roommates reported to have spotted Kohberger in the house the night of the murders can be contested.
“I don’t believe hearsay is admissible in Idaho under the rules,” LaBar said. “Cross-examination of her is going to be key in the case to possibly get even more holes as far as the identification is concerned.”
LaBar said he spoke with Kohberger over the course of the five days, approximately 4 hours total, and described him as “engaged.”
“He was aware of what plans I had, and he was good with everything that I laid out for him, including the statement,” he related. “The statement of him being exonerated implicitly meant that he was innocent of the crimes. He used the word exonerated.”
However, “we’re just in the infancy of the case,” LaBar said. More evidence will come after the preliminary hearing. And while he’s no longer representing Kohberger and has no plans to communicate with him, LaBar is following along with the rest of us, “viewing everything objectively.”
“I know I’ve been stressing since my representation of Bryan that he’s entitled to a fair trial,” LaBar continued. “And really, that’s why I’m trying to be a voice for him so people don’t jump to conclusions and raise these biases so that he can actually have a fair trial with the presumption of innocence.”
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