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Family of Kaylee Goncalves still subject to gag order for now, judge says

Judge John Judge ruled that he would not make a decision on revising the gag order and that the order would remain in place until further notice.
Credit: AP
Latah County Judge John C. Judge presides over a motion hearing regarding a gag order in a case against Bryan Kohberger in Latah County District Court, Friday, June 9, 2023, in Moscow, Idaho. Kohberger is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022. (Zach Wilkinson/Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP)

MOSCOW, Idaho — The attorney for the family of a slain University of Idaho student said the gag order issued in the case made him believe he "should tell my clients to be quiet."

The judge, however, says that's not the intention of the gag order. 

Judge John Judge, who is currently overseeing the trial of 28-year-old Bryan Kohberger, said there are statutory protections for victims and their family members, but there are also case laws that can restrict attorneys who represent potential witnesses, which Judge said the family of Kaylee Goncalves may be. However, Shannon Gray, the family's attorney, argued the family hadn't been involved in the investigation since it began.

Ultimately, Judge ruled that he would not make a decision on revising the gag order and that the order would remain in place until further notice. He will issue a written ruling at a later date.

Kohberger is accused of murdering Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Madison Mogen on Nov. 13, 2022. He was arrested at his parent's home in Pennsylvania on Dec. 30, 2022 and has since been in the Latah County Jail. During his arraignment on May 22, Kohberger stood silent and the judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. His trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 2, but could be pushed back.

Shortly after the suspect was arrested, Judge Megan Marshall issued a nondissemination order, commonly referred to as a gag order, that prohibited anyone with information about the investigation or trial from speaking with the media.

The initial order only included police, investigators, attorneys and anyone else who is involved in the case. However, the order was later amended to include the attorneys representing the victims' families.  

Gray filed a motion in February to appeal, amend and/or clarify the gag order, which he claimed was "facially overbroad and vague" and "unconstitutionally overbroad." He claimed he should be allowed to speak to the public about the case on behalf of the family under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. 

On Jan. 12, Gray met with Marshall via Zoom to discuss the gag order. Gray said he told Marshall he did not believe the Goncalves family or himself were parties in the murder case and therefore were not subject to the gag order. 

According to documents, Marshall said she "mistakenly believed" they were parties and therefore subject to the order. 

Gray said he emailed the Latah County Prosecutors Office for clarification after the original gag order was filed. He said the office never offered clarification nor gave him Marshall's email address.

"I took that as I should tell my clients to be quiet," Gray said in court Friday. "I disagreed with every point of Judge Marshall's in that meeting."

Gray stated the current gag order only applies to the People- attorneys, investigators and agents- and the Defendant, Kohberger, as they are the only "parties" in the case. He added the family members of the victims are allowed to speak to the public and media under the First Amendment. 

"It's very clear that the family and I are not parties to the case," Gray said.

Judge agreed with Gray's statement that the family is not a party in the case and said it is "clear in the case law." According to him, there are statutory protections for the victims and their families.

That case law states that attorneys who are representing witnesses can be restricted to some degree, partly because they have access to material that should not be shared with the public. Although not stated publicly, Judge said the state has suggested that the Goncalves family are potential witnesses.

Gray argued, however, that the Goncalves family has never been involved in the case.

After Kohberger was indicted on May 17, Gray said the family was not involved. No information about the indictment was given to them and the prosecution has never interviewed the family.

"How can we be witnesses in the case if that hasn't happened?" Gray asked. "The idea that they are possible witnesses is their attempt to shut me up."

Bill Thompson, the Latah County Prosecutor, denied the claims that the prosecution had not interviewed the family. According to him, law enforcement has tried to interview the family but Gray has not allowed it. 

Kohberger's defense attorney argued that the Goncalves family is involved in the case because they have rights to certain aspects of the case. Given the amount of media coverage the case has received, the defense claimed speaking with the media would be "twisted into an attack on my client."

Both the defense and prosecution argued the safest course of action was for anyone involved or potentially involved in the case to refrain from speaking to the public.

Ultimately, Judge decided he would not issue a decision on a potential gag order revision on Friday. He said he would issue a decision at a later date and try to get it out as soon as possible.

Kohberger's trial is set to begin on Oct. 2, 2023.

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