University of Idaho investigation: Experts say police must protect information ‘at all costs’


The investigation into the murders of four University of Idaho students entered a critical third week as police began receiving forensic test results from crime scenes, law enforcement experts told CNN.

Dozens of local, state and federal investigators have yet to identify a suspect or locate the murder weapon used in last month’s attack in Moscow.

Police have been criticized by the public and by victims’ families for releasing little information and a sometimes confusing narrative.

But experts say the complexities of a high-level homicide investigation involve police maximum discretion, as any premature hints to the public about a suspect or various leads police are pursuing could cause the investigation to fall apart.

CNN’s John Miller said: “In this case, the police have been reluctant to say they have a suspect, even though they have a suspect whose importance goes up and down to varying degrees because that’s the beast of the beast. Nature.” NYPD Chief Law Enforcement Analyst and former Deputy Chief of Intelligence and Counterterrorism.

“Police without suspects is actually not true,” Miller said. “The police have investigated some suspects, but they have not been willing to name the suspects. You don’t name them unless you have a purpose. It’s not uncommon.”

Kaylee Goncalves, Ethan Chapin, Xana Kernodle and Madison Mogen were killed Sunday, November 13, 2022 outside the University of Idaho campus.

Victims — Ethan Chapin, 20; Kelly Gonsalves, 21; Xana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21, were killed on November 13, according to authorities He was found stabbed on the second and third floors of the off-campus residence they shared.

Miller said the quadruple murder upended the town of 26,000 residents, which hadn’t recorded a murder since 2015, and challenged a community that hasn’t benefited from experience investigating many homicides. Police departments, not to mention under pressure from national audiences.

The Moscow Police Department is leading the investigation with assistance from the Idaho State Police, the Latta County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, which has more than 40 agents across the United States on the case.

“They really coordinated this thing to more than 100 people, acting as a team,” Miller said of the homicide investigation.

Miller said the FBI played three important roles in the Idaho investigation.

The first involves its behavioral science division, which is invaluable in cases where the perpetrator is unidentified because it narrows down the profile of the perpetrator.

The second is its advanced technologies, such as its Combined DNA Indexing System, which allows law enforcement and crime labs to share and search thousands of DNA profiles.

Finally, the FBI maintains 56 field offices in major cities across the country, allowing for expanded investigative scope and capabilities.

“The FBI brings a lot to this, and experience with a range of cases beyond what a small town typically has,” Miller said.

Law enforcement experts say that every homicide investigation begins at the crime scene, where investigators have only one opportunity to document and collect forensic evidence for processing, which includes toxicology reports of victims, hair, fibers, blood and DNA.

“One opportunity at a crime scene is where many opportunities can be made or lost,” Miller said.

Moscow police said Thursday that a large amount of evidence was collected during the investigation, including 113 exhibits, about 4,000 crime scene photos and several 3D scans of houses.

“To protect the integrity of the investigation, specific results will not be released,” police said.

Latta County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt told CNN that when she arrived at the scene, she saw “a lot of blood on the wall,” and police said “some” of the victims had defensive wounds.

Joe Giacalone, an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and retired NYPD sergeant Joe Giacalone, said the likelihood that the suspect cut himself during the attack was “pretty high,” so police are looking closely at the blood evidence case.

Lab results at the scene can come back to investigators quickly, but in this case, investigators were processing the DNA mixture, which could take longer, he said.

“When you have DNA from several donors, then it becomes a problem trying to separate those two or three or four. That could be part of the problem… toxicology reports can take weeks sometimes Come back,” Giacalone added.

The next stage in a homicide investigation is investigating the behavioral aspects of the crime. Two special agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit were assigned to the case to assess the scene and examine evidence to understand the behavior of the suspect or suspects, depending on how they committed the crime, Miller said.

“Understanding victimology in mystery is really important because it can keep you motivated, it can make you an enemy, it can make you a friend,” he said.

Investigators will know every detail about the four victims, their relationships to each other and the people in their lives, Miller said. That included cell phone recordings and internet recordings, as well as video surveillance from every camera around the crime scene, he said.

“When you do a broad video survey, you might get a picture of a person, a shadow, and then if you have a sense of direction, you can string all the other cameras in that direction and see if that image comes up again, said Miller.

At this stage, investigators rely on the FBI’s Violent Crime Arrests Program, which collects and analyzes information on violent crime in the United States.

The program compares the DNA of a suspect found at the scene with that of someone already in the system. It also scans all crimes across the country to determine if the attack was carried out in the same way as previous attacks pointing to the same perpetrator, Miller said.

“You always start with someone close to the victim, whether it’s love, money or drugs,” Jacarone told CNN. “That’s usually the first step you take because most of us are victims of people we know. We have to ask questions like, who is going to be killed from this person or in this case a group benefit from it?”

To find the weapon – believed to be a straight-bladed knife – detectives contacted local businesses to see if similar knives had been purchased recently.

“Even in the face of resistance, it is unlikely (though not impossible) that first-time offenders will be ready to use a tactical knife and murder multiple people, and this will be their first encounter with a violent crime or use of a knife,” Miller said.

One aspect of homicide investigations is “making the media happy,” Giacalone said.

“In today’s social media, true crime, community-driven world, the need for information in these cases is so great that sometimes police departments will fill in the blanks, just say something for the sake of saying something, and then Realizing that it’s either not 100 percent correct or it’s misleading,” he said.

It is vital for police to protect their information “at all costs” and they will always know more than what is released to the public. Failure to do so could result in the suspect continuing to flee, he said.

The media gathered at a news conference by Moscow police chief James Fry.

Miller said it would be “unfair” to investigators to have the public or the media criticize them for not releasing enough information about the case.

Ultimately, however, the department has a moral obligation to share some information with families in limbo, but they must be careful about what they share, Miller said.

“If you tell them we have a suspect and we’re close to making an arrest and there’s no agreement, then everyone’s going to be disappointed, or think you screwed up, or worse, go out and find out who the suspect is, and Trying to take action on your own,” he said.

Miller said investigators relied on reams of physical and scientific evidence, public information and national violent crime data for possible leads.

Police said they were analyzing public tips, photos and videos from the night of the student’s death, including more than 260 digital media submissions from people on FBI forms. Authorities have processed more than 1,000 reports and conducted at least 150 interviews to move the case forward.

“Any one of these tricks could be the missing link,” Miller said. “It can be the connective tissue of a clue you already have but a part is missing, or it can be a whole new clue to solve a case.”

Each tip must be recorded in a searchable database that investigators can refer back to as they learn new details during the investigation, Miller said. He added that while 95% to 99% of public tips might not be of any value, one or a few might crack the whole case.

“The police working on this case probably have nowhere to go tonight because they’ve already arrested another suspect and they’ll probably arrest them tomorrow morning,” Miller said of the Idaho investigation. “Or , for the suspects they are investigating today, it may take another month for them to collect enough evidence to determine the possible cause. It’s just something they can’t reveal until it happens.”

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