The judge overseeing the case against Moscow homicides suspect Bryan Kohberger announced Thursday that he will continue to allow cameras during hearings, but with more control over them.
Judge John Judge of Idaho’s 2nd Judicial District in Latah County kicked off the hearing saying he had yet to issue his decision on the matter, but that still and video cameras will for now continue to be permitted.
“I’m not going to ban cameras in the courtroom, but I need more control over what cameras are doing,” Judge told attendees Thursday afternoon. “I know I can only control so much, and that’s why I continue to urge people to be patient and have some dignity and some restraint.”
Judge said he’s been disappointed by how some photos and video footage is later used by individuals on the internet. He did not detail how he plans to take more control of cameras permitted in the courtroom going forward.
Kohberger’s attorneys argued last month that the ongoing presence of cameras in the courtroom deprives their client of his constitutional right to due process guaranteed under the 14th Amendment. His defense team said that media photographers and videographers have disobeyed Judge’s prior instruction to avoid focusing exclusively on Kohberger.
Photos solely of Kohberger “are also later appended to articles with blatantly sensationalistic and prejudicial headlines and content,” Jay Logsdon, one of Kohberger’s public defenders, wrote in a legal filing that sought to update the court’s rules for cameras inside the courtroom, by eliminating them.
“The concept of removing this sort of almost sideshow from what’s being put out there, we think, would be an important way to kind of take away the sensationalization of this case, and just kind of reduce it to hopefully the words on the page,” Logsdon added at a court hearing on the issue last week.
Kohberger, 28, who attended the hearing, is accused of stabbing four University of Idaho students to death at an off-campus Moscow home in November 2022. The victims were seniors Kaylee Goncalves and Madison Mogen, both 21; and junior Xana Kernodle and freshman Ethan Chapin, both 20.
Kohberger faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of felony burglary. A trial date has yet to be set after Kohberger waived his right to a speedy trial, but prosecutors have already stated their intent to pursue the death penalty if a jury finds him guilty.
Judge said during the 40-minute hearing that he sought to strike a balance concerning cameras between what is best for the parties in the case to achieve a fair trial, and the need to preserve public access in the highly watched legal proceedings.
“It’s a benefit and also potentially a harm,” Judge said. “It can tilt a case one way or the other if the media is, well, trying the case in the media. And we don’t want that because that’s not based on evidence, that’s not based on the rules of the court and it can get out of control.”
Prosecutors in their response said they recognized the importance of the media in the court process. The also cited their reservations about journalists capturing images and video of graphic evidence from the crime and of vulnerable witnesses who may testify at trial.
“The decision of whether to allow cameras in the courtroom is discretionary for the court,” Brad Rudley, deputy attorney in the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office, told Judge at the hearing. “However, our contention is that the safest way and best way to address all of these concerns is to prohibit cameras in the courtroom,” or at least bar them from filming or shooting sensitive evidence or witnesses, he said.
Media coalition, victims’ families oppose camera ban
Wendy Olson, a former U.S. attorney for the state of Idaho, represented a coalition of about two dozen media outlets, including the Idaho Statesman, at the hearing. She argued for maintaining camera access in the courtroom on First Amendment grounds, adding that images and video from the court proceedings help limit the publishing of misinformation about the case by non-journalist commentators.
“The answer is not less sunshine, it’s more,” Olson told Judge. “The public and this community will be best served by having those cameras in the courtroom.”
Judge denied the coalition’s attempt to be listed as formal intervenors on the camera question but said he would consider the argument of the media outlets in his ruling on an amicus curiae basis, a Latin term that translates to “friend of the court.”
At least two of the victims’ families also oppose removing cameras from the courtroom, including at trial.
Shanon Gray, attorney for the Goncalves family, issued a statement to the Statesman on behalf of his clients, as well as some members of the Kernodle family.
“Speculation is fueled by the secrecy surrounding everything that is filed and every hearing that is closed off to the media and the public,” the statement read. “So it is vitally important that the trial be viewed publicly! It is important to the victims’ family, relatives, community members and the public that this veil of secrecy be lifted at trial. This not only ensures accountability for all the parties involved, but also helps the public maintain its faith in the justice system!”
In his argument, Logsdon said the defense had concerns about the ability of media camera operators from their current vantage near where prosecutors and the defense team are seated to zoom in on their work “right over our shoulder.” Logsdon suggested the video camera be moved to the back of the courtroom, perhaps mounted for a single wide shot as is sometimes seen on C-SPAN coverage of Congress.
“I thought that might be a way to kind of give a little, and kind of protect what we’re trying to protect,” Logsdon said.
Judge said he would issue his ruling at a later time and review the concept. He then renewed his overarching message to members of the media and others closely following the high-profile case.
“Please have patience, be respectful and be decent. That’s what I want,” Judge said.