The Latah County prosecutor said the concern about having an unbiased jury influences what is being shared publicly about the investigation into the Nov. 13 murders of four University of Idaho students in Moscow.
“There’s always a concern, particularly in smaller communities like ours, that we need to be responsible with what information is made available to the public so we don’t risk tainting the prospective jury pool,” Prosecutor Bill Thompson told the Daily News on Tuesday. “Assuming that we’re able to file a case and it goes to trial, we want to be able to pick an unbiased jury from within the community.”
No suspects have been identified in the case surrounding the deaths of Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Ethan Chapin and Xana Kernodle. However, Thompson said law enforcement has an obligation to limit pretrial publicity that could compromise the fairness of the case when it goes to trial. It’s a balancing act, he said, to provide information to the public without harming the case.
While his office has dealt with high-profile cases before, this one is unique, he said.
“I don’t know that we’ve ever seen this degree of media attention, including the national media attention, but I understand this is a very serious case,” he said. “It’s very tragic and the public wants to know as much as they can about what’s going on.”
Thompson said if this case goes to trial, a jury selection process will determine whether jurors have any preconceived notions or biases “with the idea being that even if they heard something that they can set that aside and make a decision just based on the evidence that they hear in the courtroom.”
“We don’t want somebody to come in with some predisposition or a bias about what the result should be,” he said. “We want people who can come in, be open-minded and fair and listen to the evidence, and then make a decision on the issues of guilt.”
Thompson said the Latah County Prosecutor’s Office is currently providing legal advice to law enforcement working the case, as well as obtaining search warrants. He said his office has obtained more than 50 search warrants on this investigation.
His philosophy is to work hand in hand with investigators from the beginning, he said.
“We don’t sit back and just wait for law enforcement to do an investigation and then send it up,” he said. “I don’t think that’s responsible. Doing this for 30 years, that compromises the integrity of the investigation. We really work as a team.”
The FBI and Idaho State Police are assisting Moscow Police Department with the investigation. Thompson said the resources poured into this case have been “phenomenal,” and may be unprecedented in his career.
That said, the case is challenging because it does not have an “easy answer that just leaps right out in front,” he said. Thompson said those involved in the investigation knew from the beginning it was going to require patience.
“The investigators are having to meticulously sort through every possible tip, sort through every bit of information they can come up with or identify to try to recreate accurately what occurred, which means recreating the activities of everybody potentially involved or friends who may know something or bystanders who may know something,” Thompson said. “So, it’s very far-reaching.”
The Moscow Police announced it will begin removing some of the victims’ personal belongings from the crime scene on King Road starting today. The police stated these items are no longer needed for the investigation and will be returned to the victims’ families. The house remains an active crime scene.
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