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University of Idaho stabbings suspect to appear in court

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The man accused in the fatal stabbings of four University of Idaho students is expected to appear in court Thursday, a day after classes resumed for undergraduates, many of whom until recent days were stricken by fear over the case.

Bryan Kohberger, the 28-year-old Washington State University graduate student charged in the case, has yet to enter a plea and is waiting to learn whether prosecutors in the high-profile case will pursue the death penalty. Thursday’s hearing is a status conference, which often deal with scheduling of court dates.

Nearly two months after the four students were killed near campus — and two weeks after Kohberger was arrested and charged with the crime — the picturesque school grounds were starting to feel a little closer to normal.

On Wednesday, the first day of classes after winter break, students were once again striding across the university’s frosty sidewalks and crowding the campus food court.

A general feeling of relief was in the air, university spokesperson Jodi Walker said.

“The students are back and enrollments are looking good,” Walker said. “I think everybody’s happy to be back under the circumstances. They’re relieved that an arrest has been made, and ready to focus on the semester.”

The Nov. 13 slayings of Madison Mogen, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin left the rural community in Moscow, Idaho, grief-stricken and afraid, prompting nearly half of the university’s students to leave town for the perceived safety of online courses.

Weeks went by without a named suspect and few details were released, but on Dec. 30 Kohberger, a doctoral student from the university located just 10 miles (16 kilometers) away — was arrested at his parents’ home in eastern Pennsylvania. Kohberger was extradited to Idaho last week.

It’s too early to tell exactly how many students decided to return to in-person classes, Walker said. Those numbers are tallied in about two weeks to give students time for any schedule changes.

Professor Christopher Williams said when he stopped by the student union building to grab lunch from the food court, it was busier than it had been for weeks.

“It looked a fair amount more crowded than I’ve seen it, especially toward the end of last semester,” he said.

Students will have the chance to sign up for a series of extracurricular self-defense classes as well as various violence prevention and safety planning programs, Walker said. There’s still additional security on campus, as well as ongoing counseling and other support services for students, she said.

But it feels like the students have rallied and are determined to succeed despite the horrific circumstances of the last semester, Walker said.

“It definitely doesn’t diminish what happened, but we are figuring out a path forward,” she said.

The Latah County Jail, where Kohberger is being held without bond, is about a 20 minute walk from campus.

During his court appearance Thursday, a magistrate judge will discuss scheduling with his attorney and the prosecutor.

Sometimes decisions will be made at status conferences that change the trajectory of the case — for instance, a defendant could waive their right to a speedy trial or agree to skip the preliminary hearing — but more often the conferences are about things like agreeing on future court dates, discussing how many days each side will need to present testimony, or making sure both sides have access to any evidence they need.

The next major court appearance could be a preliminary hearing, when Prosecutor Bill Thompson will be expected to show the magistrate judge that he has enough evidence to justify moving forward with the felony charges. If the magistrate judge agrees, the case will be “bound over” into Idaho’s 2nd District Court, and a district judge will take over the felony case. Then Kohberger will have a chance to enter a plea to the charges. If he pleads not guilty, the case will begin working toward a trial. If he pleads guilty, a sentencing hearing will be set.

There’s no guarantee that a preliminary hearing will occur, however. Defendants often agree to skip preliminary hearings for all sorts of reasons, and skipping one does not imply any admission of guilt. Likewise, if a defendant loses a preliminary hearing, they are still presumed innocent in the eyes of the law, and the preliminary hearing cannot be used against them when the case goes to trial.

The prosecutor has not yet said if he will seek the death penalty in Kohberger’s case. If Thompson decides to seek the death penalty, he has to file a formal notice with the court no later than 60 days after Kohberger enters a plea.

A magistrate judge has also issued a gag order barring the attorneys and any agencies involved from talking about the case.