(MOSCOW, Idaho) — Prosecutors leading the case against Bryan Kohberger support banning cameras from the courtroom “at a minimum” during sensitive witness testimony which they say could be compromised.
In a court filing posted Thursday evening, Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson says they’re “concerned” that cameras “will have a substantial chilling effect on the ability of witnesses to openly, fully and candidly testify about some horrible occurrences.”
“This case will necessarily involve not only evidence of a graphic nature, but also testimony from a number of young and vulnerable witnesses,” prosecutors say — including the surviving roommates of the four slain students, Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle — as well as “a number of University of Idaho coeds and families and friends.”
Prosecutors blame the “substantial” attention from “traditional” media and social media “at least partially” for the “threats and harassment” which they say “certain witnesses” and their families and friends have suffered leading up to the trial.
And while the prosecutors say they “fully” understand the “enormous value that responsible media has in helping the public to understand the true facts of what occurs in court,” the prosecution says they think that can be accomplished without cameras — either still or video — present for proceedings.
In addition to the case’s high-profile nature and the “significant” attention from public and press alike, prosecutors say it also involves “significant physical and emotional components,” both “by virtue of the nature of the killings themselves” as well as “the myriad circumstances surrounding the victims, their associates, friends, family, the residents at 1122 King Road, and so forth.”
“The State respectfully submits that the appropriate course of action would be for the court to prohibit cameras in the courtroom, both still and video, at a minimum during trial and during any other court proceedings at which victims such as described above might be called to testify,” Thompson writes.
On this issue of excluding cameras at least, prosecutors align with lawyers for the man they’re leading the case against, both sides want to limit or prohibit cameras from court, though each has their own reasons.
Two weeks ago, attorneys for the onetime Ph.D. student now facing capital murder charges asked the judge to nix cameras from court “for the remainder of the proceedings,” citing gratuitous hyperfocus on their client from “camera-[wielding] courtroom observers.”
Arguing that coverage could prejudice a potential jury pool, Kohberger’s lawyers said that that risk is “wherever they go, viewable on their smartphones and constantly updated by thousands of unchecked sources.”
“Far from constituting an undue and over restrictive burden on the press’ right of free speech,” Kohberger’s lawyers said, “Mr. Kohberger is entitled to defend himself against capital criminal charges without cameras focused on his fly.”
A media coalition which includes ABC News opposed that request, arguing the defense’s cited examples from media and social media “do not support his position,” and that “a broader review of media coalition stories” showed that media coalition participants and other long-time media outlets had in fact heeded the court’s directions on how, and what, to film.
The judge has not yet weighed in on the matter.
A hearing is scheduled in the afternoon of Sept. 13 for arguments on removing cameras from court. As of now, cameras will be allowed for that.
Prosecutors allege that in the early morning hours of Nov. 13, 2022, Kohberger, a criminology Ph.D. student at nearby Washington State University, broke into an off-campus home and stabbed to death four University of Idaho students: Ethan Chapin, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21.
After a six-week hunt, police zeroed in on Kohberger as a suspect, saying they tracked his white Hyundai Elantra and cell phone signal data and recovered what authorities said was his DNA on a knife sheath found next to one of the victims’ bodies.
Kohberger was indicted in May and charged with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary. At his arraignment, he declined to offer a plea, so the judge entered a not-guilty plea on his behalf. If convicted, Kohberger could face the death penalty.
Though the trial was initially set for Oct. 2, on Wednesday, Kohberger recently to a speedy trial, postponing the trial indefinitely.
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