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Bryan Kohberger’s defense strategy: Why they’ll probably use touch DNA and why it won’t be enough

By Lee Cleveland - January 8, 2023

(Main image courtesy of PerezHilton.com)

In the ongoing case of the Idaho student quadruple murders, Idaho State Police identified Kohberger’s DNA on the knife sheath left behind at the scene.

CeCe Moore, chief genetic genealogist at Parabon Nanolabs and the founder of DNA Detectives, told CNN the DNA evidence left on the sheath is likely “touch DNA” which comes from skin cells.

The tan leather sheath was found next to the bodies of two of the slain University of Idaho students. And, at this moment, a motive has not been released.

“The defense attorneys are probably going to argue that the DNA could have been transferred,” Moore told CNN.

“Touch DNA can stay on something for a very long time.”

As a result, Kohberger could argue that he once owned the knife and sheath and subsequently sold or gave them away to someone else (the real killer) who took extra precautions not to leave any of his own DNA on the sheath.



Unlike years past, noticeable amounts of blood or saliva aren’t required to obtain someone’s DNA these days because scientists can get retrieve it via tiny skin cells. As a result, our DNA is probably on hundreds of items inside and outside our homes and will remain on those items for weeks or even months.

So, even if Kohberger’s DNA is found in other areas of the home where the murders were committed, he could simply say he attended a party there earlier in the year.

In the now-famous Canadian interrogation of the then-murder suspect, Russell Williams in 2010, OPP interrogator Jim Smyth explained how the process for obtaining and interpreting DNA is far more sophisticated than was the case in the mid-90s.

“Essentially, DNA has become more and more precise… When you and I walked in this room today, we could have sat down, talked for 30 seconds, walked out [and] a CSI officer could have come in 3 or 4 days from now and did some swabs here and he would have found your DNA and my DNA, and probably a lot of other people’s DNA.”



“… A little bit gross to think about, but as we talk a little bit of [saliva] comes out of our mouth that contains our DNA; our skin cells contain our DNA.”

For those reasons, prosecutors today usually need more than just DNA evidence to win.

Look for Kohberger’s defense to try to cast reasonable doubt among jurors, and insist a) touch DNA is transferable and not as reliable as DNA gathered from saliva, sweat, or semen and b) any other Kohberger DNA found at the murder scene might have been attained as a result of him being a guest at a large house party there earlier in the year.

However, authorities seem to have heaps of collaborative evidence that also points to Kohberger:

  • Kohberger’s white Hyundai Elantra matches the one caught on video that was very close to the homes at the time of the murders

  • Kohberger’s phone pinged at his residence in Pullman – eight miles from the murder scene – just before 3 a.m. and went dark until 4:48 a.m. Is it just a coincidence his phone was off during the murders?

    Probably not. Some suspect he intentionally turned off his phone during that time to avoid detection via the cell tower

  • Records also reveal Kohberger’s phone was near the crime scene hours after the murders that morning, between 9:12 a.m. and 9:21 a.m. The killings were not reported to authorities until just before noon. Why would he be there? The house is not on a main thoroughfare

  • Following the murders, Kohberger obsessively wore gloves when leaving his home

  • Kohberger meticulously washed his car prior to being arrested and had his license plates changed just 5 days after the murders

  • While under surveillance at his Pennsylvania home, he was observed leaving the house at about 4 a.m. and putting bags in the neighbors’ garbage bins. Why didn’t he use his own bin?

  • One of the two roommates who were not harmed came face to face with the masked murderer that night and described someone matching Kohberger’s description: 5’ 10” or taller, male, not very muscular, but athletically built with “bushy eyebrows.”

The DNA evidence alone probably wouldn’t make it a slam dunk case for the prosecution but when combined with the above facts, the DNA evidence is extremely significant and may seal Kohberger’s fate.

And, who knows what additional evidence authorities have but haven’t shared yet?

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