Expert: Kohberger’s silence at arraignment was strategic

  • Bryan Kohberger declined to enter a plea at an arraignment hearing Monday
  • Legal experts say the decision to stand silent could be a bargaining tactic
  • Prosecutors have 60 days to decide if they will seek the death penalty

(NewsNation) — Bryan Kohberger, who is accused of killing four University of Idaho students, declined to enter a plea in court Monday, instead electing to stand silent at his arraignment. That choice led the judge to enter not guilty pleas for the murder and burglary charges Kohberger is facing.

NewsNation legal contributor Sara Azari said the decision to “stand mute” was strategic and may provide the defendant with a bargaining chip down the line.

“I think it was smart of him to do that,” she said, pointing out that Kohberger could eventually plead guilty in exchange for taking the death penalty off the table.

In a case with grieving family members, where tensions are high, remaining silent also “brings the temperature down” and appears more remorseful than pleading not guilty, Azari said.

NewsNation national security correspondent Tracy Walder agreed his silence may be used as a negotiating tool later on.

Walder noted how Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz initially pleaded not guilty before withdrawing that plea and choosing to stand mute. Eventually, Cruz pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison but avoided the death penalty.

“Part of me does wonder if this is strategy on (Kohberger’s) side to avoid the death penalty,” said Walder.

Prosecutors now have 60 days to decide if they’re going to seek the death penalty in the case.

The only time Kohberger spoke Monday was when he acknowledged that he understood the charges and possible prison sentences.

The arraignment came just days after a grand jury indicted Kohberger for allegedly killing Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin.

The 28-year-old was already facing murder charges but the grand jury process allowed prosecutors to forego a preliminary hearing that would have allowed the defense to poke holes in the prosecution’s case.

The case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 2 and could take as many as six weeks to complete. Kohberger is expected to remain in custody at the Latah County Jail in Idaho without bond until the trial. 

A separate hearing, which will address a gag order in the case, has been scheduled for June 9.

Idaho College Killings

Copyright 2023 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending on NewsNation