Idaho murders: Conflicting statements about ‘targeted’ attack could hurt investigation, experts say

Idaho officials should not publicly theorize about the baffling murders of four University of Idaho students if they want to avoid compromising their probe, legal experts say.

Former Manhattan prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon told Fox News Digital that “the pressure to provide a frightened community with answers can’t compromise an investigation that must be open to all possibilities.”

“Law enforcement officials must resist the urge to theorize publicly, which is difficult,” said Illuzzi-Orbon, who famously won a conviction against Harvey Weinstein. 

“However, by putting out theories so early, they could miss information and evidence that comes from a different direction. Prosecutors are taught that we go where the evidence and facts lead, not speculation,” she said. 

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Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson arrives at the Moscow Police Department on Thanksgiving Day.

Latah County Prosecuting Attorney Bill Thompson arrives at the Moscow Police Department on Thanksgiving Day. (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital, Inset: @KayleeGoncalves/Instagram)

Latah County prosecutor Bill Thompson told KTVB on Wednesday that “investigators believe that this attack was intended for a specific person.” 

Hours later, in what appeared to be a surprising reversal from earlier assertions, the Moscow Police Department said they have not officially deemed the murders a “targeted” crime.

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“Detectives do not currently know if the residence or any occupants were specifically targeted but continue to investigate,” the agency said Wednesday, noting that there had been a miscommunication with the prosecutors’ office.

Police search a home in Moscow, Idaho on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, where four University of Idaho students were murdered. 

Police search a home in Moscow, Idaho on Monday, Nov. 14, 2022, where four University of Idaho students were murdered.  (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital)

On Thursday, Moscow police appeared to make another U-turn in a statement to Fox News. 

“We remain consistent in our belief that this was indeed a targeted attack but have not concluded if the target was the residence or its occupants,” police said.

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Joseph Giacalone, retired New York Police Department Sgt. and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Thompson should be more careful in his public statements.

“I’m hoping at this point, after hearing what’s going on, the state attorney takes this case over,” he added. 

Idaho State Patrol officer with a bag of evidence.

Idaho State Patrol officer with a bag of evidence. (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital)

“You don’t get a second chance to do it right. If you’re going to talk to the media, you better have all your facts 100%. At this point, I’m fully convinced that they don’t have a clue,” he said.

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Florida criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor Mark Shiner said these speculative public statements from Idaho officials are “not a smart thing to do.”

A flag outside the Moscow police department in Idaho is lowered to half-staff on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. An investigation continues into the quadruple homicide in an off-campus house in Moscow on Nov. 13.

A flag outside the Moscow police department in Idaho is lowered to half-staff on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. An investigation continues into the quadruple homicide in an off-campus house in Moscow on Nov. 13. (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital)

“There’s so much press around this small town, they don’t know what to do. They don’t have the experience,” Shiner added.

Inaccurate or retracted statements in the early stages of the investigation could come back to haunt investigators at trial, he said.

The defense could use the inconsistencies to impeach the credibility of government witnesses.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, along with the women's two other roommates in Goncalves' final Instagram post, shared the day before the slayings.

Ethan Chapin, 20, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, along with the women’s two other roommates in Goncalves’ final Instagram post, shared the day before the slayings. (@kayleegoncalves/Instagram)

Investigators have yet to announce any suspects in the stabbing deaths of students and friends Ethan Chapin, 20, Xana Kernodle, 20, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Madison Mogen, 21.

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