Court documents submitted challenging gag order in State of Idaho v. Bryan Kohberger

Coalition awaiting response from Idaho Supreme Court.


(Kai Eiselein/New York Post/Pool)

Suspect Bryan Kohberger entering a Latah County Courtroom on January 12, 2023.

PUNEET BSANTI, Deputy news editor

The attorney representing the coalition challenging the nondissemination order in the State of Idaho v. Bryan Kohberger submitted court documents to the Idaho State Supreme Court on Feb. 6. 

Bryan Kohberger, a former WSU criminology graduate student, was arrested on Dec. 30 for the stabbings of four University of Idaho students. He is currently awaiting his preliminary hearing, which will start on June 26. 

The coalition, which is made up of various local and national media organizations, announced their petition on Jan. 20. They are requesting Latah County Magistrate Judge Megan Marshall to narrow down the current nondissemination, or gag order, which prevents law enforcement, attorneys of the case and others associated with the case from speaking on it to the public and media. 

They are requesting Judge Marshall to narrow down the amended gag order. This gag order not only prevents law enforcement, attorneys of the case, and others associated with the case from speaking on it to the public and media but also attorneys who represent witnesses, victims and victims’ families of the case. 

“Despite great public interest in the investigation of the murders and now the prosecution of Mr. Kohberger, there have not been any notable leaks or dissemination of extrajudicial information that would prejudice Mr. Kohberger’s right to a fair trial,” said Wendy Olson, the attorney representing the coalition, in a statement to the court.

The petition said that the amended gag order has restrained the coalition’s rights to gather and publish newsworthy information about the case. The petition argues there is also no evidence collected from the District Court that pretrial publicity will prejudice Kohberger’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. 

The petition said that the gag order suppresses the petitioners’ First Amendment rights and violates Article I, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution, which states that every person has the right to speak freely. 

In the court document brief, the petitioners are arguing that the Court violated these rights by issuing a gag order without first “finding the prohibited speech will prejudice a criminal defendant’s right to a fair trial and any prejudice caused by the prohibited speech cannot be prevented or through less restrictive means.” 

The Idaho Statesman is one of the news outlets that signed on to the coalition. Angela Palermo, a reporter for the newspaper, said they believe the gag order violates their right to free speech.

“I don’t have a whole lot of experience about gag orders in general, but from what I’ve heard from my colleagues and other people in the industry, it’s a pretty sweeping, pretty widespread gag order, especially the fact that it applies to the attorney for the victim’s families,” she said. 

Palermo, a former University of Idaho student who is one of the reporters covering the story, said one of her colleagues was trying to get information from law enforcement about how many prison cells were in the Latah County prison where Kohberger is being held, however, they did not answer her question. 

“They wouldn’t even answer that and that seems that the gag order wouldn’t apply to something like that. There’s been a few instances where it seems like court officials or police officers have kind of brushed off questions saying that ‘we can’t answer because of the gag order,’ even though in that certain instance the gag order wouldn’t apply,” she said. 

In another instance, Palermo’s colleague asked the Moscow Police Department how many cell towers were in the area where the homicides occurred, however, they refused to answer the question. 

“I think there’s also some officials who [because] the gag order is really broad, and they’re not able to really clarify any of the specifics. So I think some people are concerned about saying something [where] the gag order could be applied in that scenario and then you’re in contempt of court,” she said. 

The petition is requesting the Idaho Supreme Court to recognize and hear their case, arguing the Court “should promptly stop any future irreparable harm by vacating or nullifying the amended gag order.”