More than a week after four University of Idaho students were shot near campuslaw enforcement experts say there were major errors in the investigation that could jeopardize the case.
Ethan Chapin, 20, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were savagely stabbed to death on November 13 between 3 and 4 a.m. in a rental house near the campus of Moscow, Idaho.
“Investigators gave away too much information,” said Joseph Giacalone, an assistant professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired NYPD sergeant.
The small font in the town of 25,000 people rushed to deal with the complexity of the crime and the sudden public scrutiny after the quadruple homicide.
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“No imminent threat”
The Moscow Police Department quickly tried to assure the public they were safe, calling the killings “an isolated and targeted attack” that posed “no imminent threat to the community as a whole”.
After immense criticism, Moscow Police Chief James Fry came back to the previous statement. “We cannot say that there is no threat to the community,” he said at a press conference on November 16.
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Retired NYPD Sgt. Herman Weisberg called the initial statement a “big misstep” which was “perplexing”. “They don’t have an identified suspect, and they still don’t have a motive, so until you have those two extremely vital things, you can’t reassure the public,” he said.
Catthy Mabbutt, Latah County Coroner, who carried out the autopsies, went on the news show circuit sharing specific details – including that the victims were each stabbed multiple times in the chest, ambushed in their sleep and some had injuries defensive. She called the attack “personal”.
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“It was not only surprising but aggravating,” Giacalone said of the coroner, who is also a lawyer with her own law firm in town. “It’s not for her to investigate this thing on TV and speculate.”
The killer or killers could discount crucial evidence, and investigators can no longer use those details to weed out false confessions, Weisberg added.
Joseph Scott Morgan, Distinguished applied forensic researcher at Jacksonville State University, said his public statements were highly unusual — especially in an unsolved murder case.
‘Crime of passion’
Moscow Mayor Art Bettge initially told The New York Times the attack was a ‘crime of passion’ but later backtracked in a statement to Fox News Digital, saying it was one of the many motives sought by the police.
“That’s the most important thing when you’re working on cases like this. There has to be a central point of information dissemination,” Morgan told Fox News Digital.
The Moscow Police Department works with the FBI and the Idaho State Police, who have now become the go-to person for all media inquiries.
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“Personally, I cringe when I see the media and public requests for information outweigh the need to preserve the integrity of the investigation,” Weisberg said. “It’s all down to the armchair detectives circulating on social media.”
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call Moscow police on 208-883-7054 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.