A man is in custody for the Idaho college murders — but the devil will be in the details to nail down a conviction. Authorities in Pennsylvania arrested Bryan Christopher Kohberger Friday morning for the November 13 murders of University of Idaho students Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Ethan Chapman, and Xana Kernodle.
But it won’t be enough to say Kohberger worked or went to school nearby, nor that he drove a white Hyundai that police have been looking for. Nor will it be enough for his DNA to merely be present at the house where the murders occurred. After all, the location was a reputed party house that arguably hundreds of people could have been to this past the semester, including Kohberger. Investigators will need to demonstrate a series of facts that tie in Kohberger to these crimes, including these 5 elements:
#1 Proximity — Was Kohberger believed or known to be in the area during the timeframe of the murders? So far, news reports indicate he was a PhD student (in criminology) at the nearby Washington State University in Pullman this past semester, which is approximately 8 miles from the scene of the murders. While college records may state Kohberger was enrolled there, investigators will need to validate through witness statements and video footage that he was in attendance during the semester, especially during the time the murders occurred.
#2 Cellphone Location Data — If Kohberger commonly carried a cellphone with him, historical cell site data may be essential in tracking the movements of that phone. Investigators would need to demonstrate Kohberger himself carried the phone with him, but if the movements of his phone match up with movements from his school and known local residence to the scene of the murders — and beyond to the location in Pennsylvania where he was arrested — the cell site date would be compelling evidence to point to Kohberger.
#3 Interview / Statements — Investigators will want to to pin down Kohberger‘s whereabout the night of the murders, and may ask him if he had ever been to the location anytime previously. If he claims to have been there for, say, a social event or party, such a statement could place him at the crime scene, but may also explain why his DNA might be found on site.
Investigators need to avoid theory tenacity and instead see what the accumulation of evidence builds toward. If Kohberger claims he was at the house, investigators need to follow up more to inquire specifically where Kohberger had gone inside, to describe those rooms — in order to bolster or refute any assertion he was there on some prior occasion.
#4 DNA at Crime Scene(s) —The mere presence of Kohberger‘s DNA at the murder scene could be explained reasonably enough because it was a known party house. But the presence of his DNA would place him onsite. Then it would be left to an accumulation of evidence — including a verbal statement — to explain the innocence of his DNA there. But should his DNA be found in the multiple locations within the house specifically where the murders occurred, the evidence would more strongly infer involvement in those crimes, rather than an incidental presence sometime beforehand.
Investigators should look too, to seek victim DNA in Kohberger‘s vehicle. Should any of the victim DNA be found there, Kohberger would have to reasonably explain its presence (perhaps as a ride-share operator or some social interaction). Otherwise, the presence of victim DNA in his vehicle would prove highly problematic for his innocence.
#5 Vehicle Location Data — Some vehicles are equipped with emergency communication systems to alert emergency services in the event of a collision. Should Kohberger‘a vehicle have been equipped with such system, or if its media system utilized satellite radio, data could potentially exist to be retrieved to track the vehicle’s movement.
#6 Totality of Circumstances — Any one of the 5 elements linking Kohberger to the scene to the victims could be attributed to coincidence or happenstance. Surely someone owning a white Hyundai and went to school in the area that semester could have previously been to a keg party at the house. But the totality of multiple elements tying Kohberger to the crime scene and the victims will be necessary to lead investigators beyond the probable cause asserted for an arrest warrant — to lead to evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The devil lies in bolstering the details that inexplicably tie Kohberger to the scene and the victims during the time the murders occurred. Moreover, evidence of the victims that can be linked to Kohberger offsite to where authorities arrested him in Pennsylvania could be most damning. A man is in custody, but now evidence needs to amass beyond a reasonable doubt. Now the investigators need to dig into the details and make their case.
Jason James Barry is an award-winning essayist and journalist. He previously served as a police officer and as a DEA Special Agent. Follow his work on American Thinker, Great Pacific Review and on prattlon.com. Recently, Jason published a collection of essays, entitled “A Season in Madness,” a reflection of students during the pandemic school lockdowns. Find out more about Jason on his webpage, WriterJasonJames.com.