Bryan Kohberger case: Idaho judge holds gag order, but narrows scope

An Idaho judge denied a request from around two dozen news organizations to lift a gag order in the case of a man accused of stabbing four college students to death.

However, the gag order was significantly narrowed in response to the organizations' concerns.

The document was filed Friday afternoon in Latah County. 

District Judge John C. Judge said in – what is formally called a "nondissemination order" – that any "prosecuting attorneys, defense attorneys, any agents of the prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys and any attorneys representing witnesses, victims or a victim's family are prohibited from making extrajudicial statements (written or oral) that the lawyer or agent knows or reasonable should know will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing or otherwise influence the outcome of the case." 

Judge said that to preserve the right to a fair trial, some curtailment of the dissemination of information in the case is "necessary and authorized under the law."

That said, he also noted that the original gag order, which also barred law enforcement officers and others tangentially related to the case from speaking to the press, was "arguably overbroad and vague in some areas."

Judge wrote that the revised order is "narrowly drawn to prohibit only extrajudicial statements that have a ‘substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing’ this case," including specific examples of what speech is prohibited and what is allowed. 

The judge also denied attorney Shanon Gray's request to be exempted from the amended order. Gray represents the family of victim Kaylee Goncalves. Gray had asked to be excluded from the order so that he could talk to the press on the family’s behalf.

Judge highlighted that, as an attorney, Gray could have access to confidential information about the case that would be prejudicial if it was released to the public.

Gray has accused the prosecution of keeping the family in the dark.

"I have not seen a poorer line of communication in my 22 years than with the prosecution and the Goncalves family," he said, according to KTVB.

Kohberger, 28, is charged with four counts of first-degree murder and burglary in connection with the stabbing deaths in Moscow, Idaho. The judge noted that he is "potentially facing the death penalty if found guilty." 

The bodies of Goncalves, 21, Madison Mogen, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, and Ethan Chapin, 20, were found on Nov. 13, 2022, at a rental home across from the University of Idaho campus.

Kohberger was a graduate student studying criminology at Washington State University.

In January, Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall issued the sweeping gag order, and earlier this year, 30 news organizations – including the Associated Press – asked the Idaho Supreme Court to reject it, contending that it violates First Amendment rights. 

The high court declined to weigh in and said the coalition should first ask the lower court to lift the order.

"We are pleased that the Court significantly narrowed the nondissemination order, a clear recognition that the initial order was overbroad," Wendy Olson, the attorney representing the media coalition, said in a statement. "We all agree that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights are important but that in preserving those rights, neither the parties nor the courts can completely cast aside the First Amendment rights of the press. The press in cases like this one provide important transparency regarding how the criminal justice system works."

Fox News' Michael Ruiz contributed to this report.