More than one week after four University of Idaho students were slaughtered near campus, law-enforcement experts say there have been major blunders in the investigation that could compromise the case.
Ethan Chapin, 20, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, were savagely stabbed to death Nov. 13 between 3 and 4 a.m. in a rental house near campus in Moscow, Idaho.
“Investigators have given out too much information,” said Joseph Giacalone, adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and retired NYPD sergeant.
The small police force in the town of 25,000 scrambled to cope with the complexity of the crime and sudden public scrutiny after the quadruple homicide.
The Moscow Police Department quickly tried to assure the public that they were safe calling the killings “an isolated, targeted attack” that posed “no imminent threat to the community at large.”
After immense criticism, Moscow Police Chief James Fry walked back the earlier assertion. “We cannot say there is no threat to the community,” he said at a Nov. 16 press conference.
Retired NYPD Sgt. Herman Weisberg called the initial statement a “big misstep” that 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 pieces you can’t set the public’s mind at ease,” he said.
Latah County Coroner Catthy Mabbutt, who performed the autopsies, went on the news show circuit sharing specific details– including that the victims were each stabbed multiple times in the torso, ambushed in their sleep and some had defensive wounds. She called the attack “personal.”
“It was not only surprising but aggravating,” Giacalone said of the coroner, who is also an attorney with her own law office in town. “It is not her place to investigate this thing on TV and speculate.”
The killer or killers could discard crucial evidence, and investigators can no longer use those details to weed out false confessions, Weisberg added.
Joseph Scott Morgan, distinguished scholar of applied forensics at Jacksonville State University, said her public statements were highly unusual – especially in an unsolved murder case.
Moscow Mayor Art Bettge initially told the New York Times that the attack was a “crime of passion” but later backpedaled in a statement to Fox News Digital, saying it was one of many motives police are probing.
“That’s the important thing when you’re working cases like this. There has to be a central point of information delivery,” Morgan told Fox News Digital.
The Moscow Police Department is working with the FBI and the Idaho State Police, which has now become the point person for all media inquiries.
“I personally cringe when I see the media and the public’s demands for information outweigh the need to preserve the integrity of the investigation,” Weisberg said. “This is all because of the armchair detectives out there on social media.”
Anyone with information about the incident is being asked to call Moscow police at 208-883-7054 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.