The Nov. 13, 2022, murders of Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin, students at the University of Idaho, left the nation stunned and the families of the victims searching for answers.
Bryan Kohberger, charged in the case, faces four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary. A judge has entered a not guilty plea on his behalf. As attention turns to Kohberger’s trial, the murders remain unexplainable, with questions lingering.
“I don’t know why it happened,” Jazzmin Kernodle, sister of Xana Kernodle, told “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant in her first interview. “I wish we knew. They were, all four of them were, just such great people and made such an impact on the lives around them.”
Jazzmin and her father, Jeffrey Kernodle, spoke with Van Sant in “The Night of the Idaho Murders,” airing Saturday, Sept. 16, at 10/9c on CBS, and streaming on Paramount+. Van Sant asked Jeffrey Kernodle about reports that his daughter, Xana, fought back against the attacker.
“I believe so,” Kernodle replied. “It’s upsetting to think about.”
Also interviewed were Kaylee Goncalves’ parents, Kristi and Steve Goncalves, and Kaylee’s sister, Alivea Goncalves.
“We’re not going to just sit back and cross our fingers and pray we’re going to get justice,” Steve Goncalves said.That desire for justice led the Goncalves family to undertake their own investigation, in addition to speaking with authorities, before a gag order was put in place.
Steve Goncalves says, according to the coroner, the first victim was Mogen. Both Mogen and Goncalves were sleeping in the same bed in a room on the third floor of the house. After killing Mogen, the assailant then went on to kill Kaylee, Steve Goncalves said.
“There’s evidence to show that she awakened and tried to get out of that situation,” says Goncalves, “she was assaulted and stabbed.”
Kristi Goncalves explains her daughter had several fatal wounds and that the way the bedroom was set up, made it difficult to escape. “The bed was up against the wall. The headboard was touching the wall and the left side of the bed was touching the wall. And we believe that Maddie was on the outside and Kaylee was on the inside,” she says. “The way the bed was set up … she was trapped.” Kristi Goncalves believes the assailant was not expecting to find the two best friends together in the same bed. ” I do think that his plan went awry. I do think that, you know, he intended to kill one and killed four.”
Steve and Kristi Goncalves say investigators’ information also led them to believe that Bryan Kohberger may have made scouting trips to the students’ house where the murders occurred. “He had to know when people were coming, people going,” says Steve Goncalves.
Kristi Goncalves wonders if Kohberger had ever gone inside the home, saying, “I think he at least had opened that door, went in, tested the waters, looked around.”
The Goncalves’ also think they may have found a possible connection, through Instagram, between Bryan Kohberger, their daughter, and Maddie Mogen. They believe they found Kohberger’s Instagram account and he had been following Kaylee’s and Maddie’s Instagrams. “From our investigation of the account, it appeared to be the real Bryan Kohberger account,” says Kristi Goncalves.
However, Bryan Kohberger’s defense team has stated in court filings, that, “There is no connection between Mr. Kohberger and the victims.” Investigative reporter Howard Blum, who has written extensively about the case for Air Mail, a digital newsletter, explains in an interview with “48 Hours,” “the prosecution would like … everyone to believe that it’s an open-and-shut case … but I think the facts they have make the case perhaps more open, than open-and-shut.” Blum also says if no connection between Kohberger and the victims can be established, “then there is no motive. And if there’s no motive, then it becomes very hard to make the case that he is the killer.”
With the gag order in place, information is restricted, but the filings do provide some insight into the defense’s case, says CBS News consultant Bryanna Fox, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida and a former FBI special agent. “I don’t think there’s any slam dunk,” Fox tells “48 Hours.” “It seems that the defense is alleging there was a rush to judgment, law enforcement made an arrest too fast, and they focused on their client too quickly.”
The defense filings have tried to poke holes in some of the information alleged in the affidavit released after Kohberger’s arrest, such as cellphone data that picked up Kohberger’s movements near the victims’ house and security cameras that captured his Hyundai Elantra near the murder scene. The defense has pointed to concerns, says Fox, whether Bryan Kohberger’s car was accurately identified at the outset, or if that identification was affected after authorities learned the model of the car he drove.
While the alleged cellphone data makes one suspicious of Kohberger, says Blum, “it’s not putting someone at someone’s doorstep, it’s putting … someone in someone’s neighborhood. And there’s a large difference. And if you can convince a jury of this, if you can raise doubts about the validity, and the accuracy of the cellphone data, I think you’re halfway there to getting the case against Kohberger, either a hung jury — or a not guilty verdict.”
Kristi Goncalves says regardless of the defense claims, she remains steadfast in her belief that Bryan Kohberger is responsible for the murders, and that whenever the trial begins, her family will be there. “He’s going to feel all of us just staring at the back of his head,” says Kristi Goncalves. “And he knows… what he did to our daughter.”