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UPDATE: Kohberger back in Idaho court, his former PA attorney speaks out

Bryan Kohberger was back in Idaho court Thursday. Newswatch 16 talked to Jason LaBar, the Monroe County Public Defender, about his former client's case.

MONROE COUNTY, Pa. — UPDATE: The man from the Poconos accused in a quadruple murder in Idaho was back in an Idaho courtroom Thursday morning.

Bryan Kohberger of Monroe County appeared in an Idaho courtroom for what's called a status hearing. It's a procedural step in what will be a long and exhaustive process as prosecutors try to prove that Kohberger is the man who killed four University of Idaho students in November.

The judge presiding over the case ordered lawyers for both sides to meet before the end of the week to schedule a preliminary hearing — basically, a scaled-down trial which is the first hurdle prosecutors have to clear before getting the case in front of a jury.

Kohberger waived his right to a speedy preliminary hearing on Thursday. That hearing is now scheduled for June 26, 2023.

As Kohberger was in court in Idaho Thursday morning, his family watched on Zoom here in Pennsylvania.

We spoke with the chief public defender in Monroe County, Jason LaBar, who represented Kohberger for his first court appearance and only hearing in Pennsylvania.

LaBar is continuing to guide the Kohberger family through the court process.

"(Kohberger's mother) understands these families are suffering, their loss. It's a difficult situation for them, and really, they just want to promote his presumption of innocence and let this unfold in court. That's what they would say. They would repeat it over and over. They're trying to not read as much as possible, it's difficult, obviously. They are getting some harassment towards them. There are people driving past the house, taking pictures and things. We're going to respond appropriately at some point in time, but I won't be the counsel on that. We're certainly looking for someone else to handle those duties," LaBar said.

LaBar is urging the scores of people following the case to withhold judgment until Kohberger stands trial.

"This case is just in its infancy. There's going to be more evidence. Things are going to come out whether good or bad, and you're going to have to look at it objectively and see how defense counsel reacts, but that's going to be at trial, and people shouldn't judge now."

Ahead of the hearing, Newswatch 16's Elizabeth Worthington talked to Jason LaBar, the Monroe County Public Defender who represented Kohberger for his extradition from Pennsylvania to Idaho. 

Below is the interview:

Below is a transcription of the interview:

NEWSWATCH 16: During the time you represented Bryan Kohberger in Pennsylvania, did he reveal anything to you that the public or the police don't already know at this point? 

LABAR: When I spoke to Brian, about the case, I made it quite clear that I was only his attorney for the extradition proceeding, so we never spoke about any of the facts or circumstances surrounding the actual alleged crime itself. 

NEWSWATCH 16: So you're essentially just as much in the dark as the rest of us when it comes to any connection he might have had to the students or possible motive if he did commit the crime.

LABAR: Correct. I wanted to view the case objectively myself also. So I was working blind because I didn't have the affidavit of probable cause, so I wouldn't be able to discuss anything with him even if he did relay any information to me. 

NEWSWATCH 16: So you said before that he helped you craft the statement that you made on his behalf after his arrest. What was his opinion on the statement? What did he want to make sure was said or was included?

LABAR: I think the most important part was the exoneration part. He believed that he would be exonerated, which to me implicitly meant that he was innocent of the crimes, so that obviously there either wouldn't be enough evidence or more he was going to be found innocent of the crimes.

NEWSWATCH 16: Throughout your interactions with him, how would you describe his demeanor? 

LABAR: When I was talking with Mr. Kohberger, he was very calm. He was aware of the serious nature of what was going on. He was easy to talk to. I've said multiple times that he's very intelligent, which might make it easier for me to have a conversation with him. And really, he was just really candid about the situation as far as the extradition was concerned. So it wasn't difficult to talk to him about the extradition at all.

KOHBERGER: You said that he was very calm. Did it surprise you at all that he wasn't more visibly upset or agitated?

LABAR: Not at the time. I really didn't take anything of it. I've been doing this a long time, and every defendant reacts differently with these types of charges. I mean, he originally, he was shocked by the arrest, those were his words. So I mean, it didn't surprise me. I was probably just as shocked as he was that he was found in Monroe County. 

NEWSWATCH 16: You were probably not expecting this to come your way. 

LABAR: I definitely, after I was following the case, I did not expect Mr. Kohberger to end up in Monroe County and be an alleged suspect.

NEWSWATCH 16: So the evidence presented in the affidavit basically is the DNA, the car, the cell phone pings, and the physical description given by one of the surviving roommates. If you were representing him in this murder trial, what would your strategy be? Do you think that the police have an airtight case? Or do you think you'd be able to poke holes in any of that? 

LABAR: It's obviously Attorney Taylor's job to poke holes in that. Objectively this is just the infancy of the case. And all we have is still the affidavit of probable cause. But from what you've mentioned, if you individually look at each piece of evidence, there's holes.  I've said before that it's a strong circumstantial case, but with a lot of those holes. If you look at the sheath that was left at the scene that contained or had Bryan's DNA on it, that's touch transfer DNA. It's not blood DNA that we're aware of. And we don't know if there's more blood DNA around the corner, but as far as the touch transfer DNA, that just means that he touched that object and it could have went undisturbed for a long period of time. Experts will tell you if it goes undisturbed, it could be forever that you'd be able to recover his touch DNA. 

We talked about the identification on scene made by D.M., and I classified it as shaky at best. It certainly isn't 100% Mr. Kohberger. And quite frankly, I think Attorney Taylor will make that identification almost unusable for the Commonwealth [state] based upon my experience, due to the circumstances surrounding both the ID and the aftermath of the ID. As far as the car being the vehicle, again, I don't know of any direct evidence that it's actually Bryan's car, or that he was driving the vehicle. They're using circumstantial evidence, obviously strong circumstantial evidence to say that it was his vehicle. 

But that all goes back to the cell phone tower pings, which are very unreliable. Experts are going to testify that cell phone tower pings are just within a radius of the tower that it pings off of, and that radius can be up to 20 miles. Obviously, as the crow flies, I think Bryan was approximately eight miles away from the University of Idaho, where the crime was allegedly committed. So at any moment in time, any day, he could ping multiple towers that would put him within that radius.

So certainly, there's circumstantial evidence, when grouped together, it seems like it's fairly strong. But at this point in time, there's obvious holes and holes that the prosecutor can close, I want to be clear. Looking objectively at it, right now, it's a strong circumstantial case but it but it has certain holes that a very competent defense attorney like attorney Taylor is going to make those holes big, and they're going to stay big in my opinion, until closed.

NEWSWATCH 16: There's a lot of questions and speculation surrounding the surviving roommate, and why she might not have called the police for several hours. But all that's laid out in the affidavit is the reasons why they arrested by Kohberger, specifically. So is it fair to say there might be more information that the police are aware of that we're just not privy to at this moment? 

LABAR: Yeah, I think there's definitely going to be more that comes out. Obviously, we're not privy to the entire cell phone dump, or will we be, of the four victims, as well as Mr. Kohberger. There could be a link that's established between them. I don't know. There also could be DNA evidence now as the Pennsylvania State Police executed a search warrant on Mr. Kohberger when he was in their custody. So that's also very important, it could be blood DNA. So there's a lot of work to do. I'm not saying the Commonwealth [state] doesn't have more evidence that they're not sharing with us at this time. But my whole intention in the representation of Mr. Kohberger was to make sure that he gets a fair trial, the only way to get a fair trial is to look at everything objectively and really wait until the evidence comes out at trial. Because that's what an individual who has that presumption of innocence is entitled to.

NEWSWATCH:  Did it surprise you - If he did commit the crime - did it surprise you that he would have left behind that leather knife sheath with his DNA on it? Knowing that he is a criminology student? 

LABAR: I'll comment on that a little differently than what you want. But I'm a defense attorney. I know, or I should know, a lot about how police do investigations. I probably know more than Mr. Kohberger on how they do police investigations. So to say that simply because he studied in criminology that that makes it a reason as to why he's a suspect, then every defense attorney could also be a suspect. Obviously, there's circumstantial evidence that puts Mr. Kohberger closer than me. But you know, I really don't want to comment on why the sheath may or may not have been left because I can't really say why it was. 

NEWSWATCH 16: Obviously, Mr. Kohberger enjoys the presumption of innocence. But after meeting him after reading the affidavit, do you think he's guilty? 

LABAR: I don't judge cases like that. I look and wait until all of these evidence is brought out and testified to in trial. I know that sounds like a defense attorney canned speech, but really I can't comment until I know all of the evidence against Mr. Kohbeger, nor would I want to comment because, again, he does have that presumption of innocence. The evidence doesn't come fully out until the actual trial. I mean, certainly, I anticipate [Thursday] we're going to learn additional facts that are contained outside the affidavit of probable cause. So I'm anticipating that for [Thursday.]

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