The man accused of murdering four college students during a predawn intrusion at their house near the University of Idaho declined to enter a plea to the charges Monday, electing to “stand silent” during the first step in what promises to be a lengthy legal process.
Judge John C. Judge said he would enter a not-guilty plea for the defendant, Bryan Kohberger, after Mr. Kohberger’s lawyer, Anne Taylor, said her client had elected not to enter any plea at this stage. Mr. Kohberger has said through a lawyer in the past that he expects to be exonerated.
A trial was set to begin in October in Moscow, the quiet Idaho college town that had not recorded a murder in the seven years before the four students were killed Nov. 13.
Investigators have said in court records that they linked Mr. Kohberger to the killings with the help of DNA found on a knife sheath at the crime scene, as well as through surveillance video that showed a car similar to his near the house around the time of the killings.
At that time, Mr. Kohberger was studying for a doctorate in criminology at Washington State University, a few miles across the state border from the University of Idaho campus. Prosecutors have not disclosed any prior connections between him and any of the four victims — Madison Mogen, 21; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Ethan Chapin, 20.
In the hours before the killings, Ms. Mogen and Ms. Goncalves were out at a bar, and they stopped at a food truck before returning home. Ms. Kernodle and Mr. Chapin were at a party.
Investigators said that the victims and two other people who lived in the house were home by 2 a.m. on Nov. 13. After that, investigators have said, surveillance video showed a white car appearing repeatedly next to the house. Mr. Kohberger drove a white Hyundai Elantra.
The authorities said Mr. Kohberger’s cellphone was moving through the region in the early morning hours, but was disconnected from cell networks — perhaps it had been turned off, they said — during a two-hour period around the time of the killings.
Investigators spent weeks looking for a suspect in the case. Eventually, they learned that DNA they had found on the knife sheath was related to DNA they found at Mr. Kohberger’s family home in Pennsylvania, where Mr. Kohberger had gone in early December at the end of the fall semester.
The semester ended with Mr. Kohberger embroiled in turmoil on his own campus, where officials investigated two altercations he had with a professor and complaints about his conduct around women. Mr. Kohberger was terminated from his teaching assistant position several weeks after the killings. He was arrested in Pennsylvania on Dec. 30.
Mr. Kohberger’s lawyers had been preparing for a lengthy preliminary hearing in the case that was scheduled to take place at the end of June, but a grand jury indictment last week made that hearing unnecessary. Much of the evidence gathered by prosecutors that could have been made public at such a hearing will instead remain undisclosed for now.
Mr. Kohberger arrived at the hearing Monday in an orange jumpsuit, with shackles around his ankles. As he looked out across the packed courtroom toward a group of relatives of the victims, they stared at him in silence.
Mr. Kohberger repeatedly responded “yes” as he was asked whether he understood each of the charges against him, and whether he understood that he could face life in prison or the death penalty if convicted on each of the four murder counts.