11 Jan USA Today: ‘A perfect case study’: How advances in tech allowed Idaho police to unravel mysterious student killings
By Trevor Hughes and N’dea Yancey-Bragg
January 8, 2023
Security cameras. Internet video streams. Cellphone towers.
In the days after four college students were stabbed to death in their Moscow, Idaho, rental home in the early hours of Nov. 13, police traced the digital footprint of the victims and the man accused of killing them in exhaustive detail.
Authorities tracked down the suspect’s car in his college parking lot, backtracked his cellphone’s movements for six months, and even figured out exactly what time one of the victims was using TikTok on her phone, court records show. They used a video stream from a food truck to help determine where two of the victims had been earlier, and phone records to figure out who gave them a ride home.
While investigators worked long hours to crack the case, technology sped things along dramatically, including thousands of digital uploads processed by the FBI. Without a murder weapon, motive or anyone seeing the killer’s face, authorities were able to make extraordinary use of advancements in technology to piece together the mystery surrounding who they say killed University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, Kaylee Goncalves, 21, and Xana Kernodle, 20 — an act of violence that upended the small college town.
“I think it just goes to this idea that there is no perfect crime in this day and age,” said former Los Angeles County prosecutor Joshua Ritter, who is now a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers. “It is for the most part a fairly circumstantial case. And building that kind of case requires you to build this kind of tapestry of evidence, which they have done here in a very remarkable way.”
While experts like Mary Phan, professor at the University of Washington School of Law, called the police work “a perfect case study in modern investigative techniques,” others expressed caution.
Well-known Colorado defense attorney Iris Eytan said she thought the newly released charging document reflect a police department desperate to make an arrest without considering other possible suspects or exploring why the surviving roommates didn’t do more to help their friends.