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Cellphone expert testifies missing data benefits University of Idaho murder suspect

Sy Ray, a cellphone tower analyst, said at an evidence hearing that what he has seen so far appears to be "exculpatory" to Bryan Kohberger, although that could change.

A cellphone analyst suggested at a pretrial hearing Thursday that he has been stymied by law enforcement’s disorganized data collection and recordkeeping in the case against Bryan Kohberger, the graduate student accused in the fatal stabbings of four Idaho college students.

Sy Ray, whom Kohberger’s defense team plans to call as an expert witness at trial, said his review of the evidence provided by the FBI and police so far shows not all of the cellphone data extracted from Kohberger’s phone around the time of the murders in 2022 was mapped.

He further testified that it’s crucial that he receive all of the AT&T source data and related information for him to verify, given that prosecutors in Latah County are pinning Kohberger to the location of the killings, in part, by his cellphone use and cell tower records.

“It is a terrible practice to justify probable cause with these very detailed call detail records that give breadcrumb-like trails for individuals and then not map it,” Ray said.

Bryan Kohberger enters the courtroom for his arraignment hearing in Latah County District Court, Monday, May 22, 2023, in Moscow, Idaho. Kohberger is accused of killing four University of Idaho students in November 2022.
Bryan Kohberger enters the courtroom in Latah County District Court, in Moscow, Idaho, in 2023.Zach Wilkinson / Pool/The Moscow-Pullman Daily News via AP file

“Because of the piecemealing of the data, because of the missing data, because of the data I’m reviewing that is incredibly inaccurate, everything that is missing is absolutely in benefit of the defense right now,” Ray testified, adding, “There are other reports that are missing that I can’t tell you are benefiting of Mr. Kohberger or the state.”

He added that it’s unclear why certain data is unavailable: “Is this human error? Is it accidental? Is it intentional?”

What he has seen so far, he said, appears to be “exculpatory” to Kohberger.

Ray, a former police detective in Arizona, testified that he typically has been an expert witness for prosecutors in criminal cases. His expertise has previously come under scrutiny.

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Earlier in Thursday’s hearing, a lead investigator with the Moscow Police Department testified that thousands of hours of video were collected in relation to a Hyundai Elantra that prosecutors say Kohberger was driving when he left his apartment in Washington state, 9½ miles from where the murders took place in Moscow, Idaho.

Thursday’s testimony was part of an ongoing attempt by the defense to ask the judge to compel prosecutors to turn over certain evidence in the discovery phase. DNA experts were expected to be called during a later hearing closed to the public. Prosecutors have argued that they aren’t purposefully withholding information.

The slow pace of the pretrial hearings and the discussions hanging over such a high-profile case have only delayed the trial and pushed a trial date back to spring or summer 2025 — frustrating families of the victims, who say their ability to heal has been impeded.

Three of the victims — Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; and Xana Kernodle, 20 — lived in an apartment house near the University of Idaho, where they were students. Kernodle’s boyfriend, Ethan Chapin, 20, had been staying over and was also killed early Nov. 13, 2022.

In an affidavit following Kohberger’s arrest weeks after the killings, prosecutors said he was linked to the scene through male DNA discovered on a knife sheath left at the victims’ apartment house. Investigators also said his cellphone use and video surveillance connected him to the crime.

Kohberger’s alibi defense maintains that he would go for nighttime drives and that they only increased during the school year.

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