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'This is an attempt by the prosecution to shut them up': Emotions run high in Bryan Kohberger gag order hearing

The prosecution claims they have reached out to the Goncalves family for interviews, but their attorney advised against it.

MOSCOW, Idaho — Emotions were high in the Latah County Courthouse on Friday, where a judge heard arguments from an Idaho murder victim's family attorney, Shanon Gray, about why he should be able to speak more freely to the media.

Gray represents the Goncalves family, who lost their daughter Kaylee Goncalves in November of 2022 in a brutal stabbing in Moscow. Bryan Kohberger, 28, is charged with her murder and the murder of her friends Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin.

Before the hearing, Latah County District Judge John C. Judge apologized to the victims' families for mispronouncing some of their names during Kohberger's arraignment on May 22.

"The loss of your children is devastating and horrific," Judge said. "I was up all night, really ill. Probably food poisoning… Also some emotion and nerves as I read those names. I'm sorry." 

Currently, a non-dissemination order, or "gag order" is in place regarding the case, which forces those involved in the investigation or with knowledge of any evidence to abstain from commenting about it to the media. It was issued Jan. 3 and later amended.

Gray filed his motion to amend or clarify the order because he said it is "too vague" -- in the hearing Friday, he told Judge that because he and the Goncalves family are not considered a party in the case against Kohberger, he should be able to speak more freely on behalf of the family. Even though, Gray has been speaking to the media anyway.

Gray also accused the prosecution of keeping the Goncalves family in the dark. They didn't even know a grand jury was convened to indict Kohberger on the murder charges, he told the judge, and said the family has never been interviewed.

“I have not seen a poorer line of communication in my 22 years than with the prosecution and the Goncalves family," Gray said.

However, the Goncalves family may be witnesses at some point during the proceedings, meaning they likely cannot speak about the case anyway due to the gag order. Judge pointed out this would especially be the case during a sentencing phase if the prosecution decides to move forward with seeking the death penalty.

“The prosecution has never interviewed the Goncalves family. How in the world would we be witnesses?” Gray asked the judge. Judge and Gray began  going back and forth in somewhat of a tense exchange about what authority judges have over the statements of family attorneys.

“Help me understand what you think you can't say versus what you've already been saying?” Judge asked him.

“I have no idea," Gray said. He told the judge the court is "just throwing stuff in the air" to regulate his free speech.

These statements didn't sit well with the prosecution, however.

Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson told the judge that the only reason the Goncalves family has not been interviewed by the prosecution is because Gray had advised them not to.

“Mr. Gray has made representations that are simply misleading… The media is here... I don't want the public to come away with the impression that impropriety has occurred… We have answered the questions we can," Thompson said. Some of those answers are withheld to maintain the integrity of the investigation, he added.

Another member of the prosecution team, Bradley Rudley, told the judge he believes the Goncalves family would fall under the gag order because they would likely be witnesses during the sentencing, contending what Judge told Gray previously.

Rudley said the reason the order is in place is because each side wants to make sure a fair trial is upheld.

"The alternative.. Sequestering or changing venue aren't going to mitigate the impact of statements made in the case," Rudley said. “Gray's statements that he isn't bound (by the gag order)… Illustrate why the order is necessary in this matter. We would ask the court uphold the amended order."

The defense had their turn -- and they agreed with the prosecution.

The safest thing anyone can do is not speak to the media, they said; "Let statements be made here, and the media gets that… We don’t have to have someone that's trying to whip the media into a frenzy and send this case to the firing squad or whatever," appearing to refer to national media outlets who have speculated Kohberger could face the firing squad.

But Gray fought back -- 

“This is an attempt by the prosecution to shut them up and shut me up," he said. “All the information disseminated to the public from the get-go was the mayor, Chief Fry, the coroner. All of those people had interviews. We didn’t.”

Judge ended the hearing by saying he wouldn't be deciding on the motion today, but would issue a written ruling as soon as possible.

Another hearing regarding cameras in the courtroom will take place at 1:30 p.m. PST or 2:30 p.m. MST. 

Courts and investigative reporter Alexandra Duggan is there, reporting from the courthouse. Follow her on Twitter @dugganreports.

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