Law enforcement experts tell CNN that the investigation into the murders of four University of Idaho students is entering a critical phase in its third week as police begin to obtain forensic results from the crime scene.
Dozens of local, state and federal investigators have yet to identify the suspect or the deadly weapon used in last month’s attack in Moscow.
The public, as well as family members of the victims, criticized the police for releasing little information, which at the time was a confusing narrative.
But the complex nature of the homicide investigation puts police discretion at a high level, experts say, because any premature tip-off to the public about a suspect or the various police leads that are after them could cause it to unravel.
CNN’s John Miller said: “What the police have refused to say in this case is to say they have a suspect, even though they have suspects that have risen and fallen at different levels of importance, because that’s the nature of the beast. CNN’s John Miller said. Senior law enforcement analyst and former deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism at the New York Police Department.
“Police not having a suspect is really wrong,” Miller said. “Police have seen a number of suspects, but they don’t have any suspects they want to name.” You don’t name them unless you have a purpose for it. It’s not unusual.”
Victims – Ethan Chapin, 20; Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Hana Kernodle, 20; and Madison Mogen, 21, were wounded Nov. 13 on the second and third floors of their off-campus shared apartment, authorities said.
The quadruple slayings jolted the town of 26,000, which hasn’t had a homicide since 2015, and strained the police department, which has no experience investigating multiple homicides, Miller says. .
The Moscow Police Department is leading the investigation with assistance from the Idaho State Police, the Lata County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI, which has assigned more than 40 agents across the United States.
“They really coordinated this in over 100 people working as a team,” Miller said of the homicide investigation.
According to Miller, the FBI is playing three important roles in the Idaho investigation.
The first includes its behavioral science department, which is very valuable for unknown criminal cases because it narrows down the characteristics of the criminal.
The second is its advanced technology, such as the Integrated DNA Indexing System, which allows law enforcement officials and crime labs to share and search thousands of DNA profiles.
Finally, the FBI has 56 field offices in major cities across the country that can expand its reach and investigative capabilities.
“The FBI brings a lot to this, as well as experience in a range of cases that is more than what a small town would normally have,” Miller said.
Law enforcement experts say every homicide investigation begins at the scene, which gives investigators the only opportunity to record and collect forensic evidence, including toxicology reports on victims, hair, fibers, blood and DNA. will be
“It’s a crime scene opportunity that has a lot of make-or-miss potential,” Miller said.
Moscow police said Thursday that extensive evidence was collected during the investigation, including 113 pieces of physical evidence, nearly 4,000 crime scene photos and several 3D scans of the house.
“To protect the integrity of the investigation, specific results will not be released,” police said.
Lata 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 self-defense wounds.
Joe Giacalone, an adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a retired NYPD sergeant who led the Agency’s Cold Murder School, said it is “highly likely” that the suspect could have cut himself during the attack, so police are carefully examining the blood evidence. Case team.
Lab results from the scene can be returned to investigators quickly, but in this case, investigators are working with DNA mixtures, which can take longer, he said.
“When you have multiple donors with DNA, then it becomes difficult to separate those two or three or four. That can be part of the problem … the toxicology reports can sometimes take several weeks to come back,” Giacalone said.
The next step in a homicide investigation is to examine the behavioral aspects of the crime. Miller says two agents from the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit were assigned to the case to assess the scene and examine evidence to study the behavior of the suspect or suspects based on how the crime was committed.
“Understanding the victims of the mystery can be very important because it can lead you to motivation, enemies and you to friends,” he said.
Miller says investigators are looking into every detail about the four victims, their relationships with each other and the various people in their lives. This includes cell phone records and Internet records, as well as video surveillance from every camera surrounding the crime scene, he said.
“When you’re doing a wide-angle video, you can get a picture of a person, a shadowy figure, and then if you have a sense of direction, you can point all the other cameras in that direction to see if that’s the picture again. appears,” Miller said.
During this phase, investigators rely on the FBI’s Violent Crime Interception Program, which collects and analyzes data on violent crimes in the United States.
The program can match a suspect’s DNA found at a crime scene with someone already in the system. It also scans all crimes across the country to determine if the pattern of an attack matches a previous attack and points to the same perpetrator, Miller says.
“You always start with people who are close to the victims, whether it’s love or money or drugs,” Giacalone told CNN. “This is usually the first step you take because most of us are victimized by someone we know. We have to ask, who benefits from the killing of this person, or in this case, a group?”
To locate the weapon, believed to be a fixed blade knife, detectives contacted local businesses to see if any such knives had been purchased recently.
“It is unlikely, though not impossible, that a first-time offender will be armed with a tactical knife and kill several people, even if resisted, and this will be their first encounter with a violent crime or crime. using a knife,” Miller said.
According to Giacalone, one of the aspects of the murder investigation is the “bliss of the media”.
“In today’s social media, true crime, community-driven world in these situations, the demand for information is so great that sometimes police departments fill that void and say something just for the sake of saying something and then they realize. that this is either not 100% correct or misleading,” he said.
It is important for the police to keep their information “adequate” and they always know more than they let on to the public. Otherwise, it could cause the suspect to flee, he says.
Miller said it’s “not fair” for investigators to criticize the public or the media for not releasing enough information about the case.
Ultimately, however, the department has an ethical obligation to share some information with families who are struggling with uncertainty, Miller says, but they must be judicious about what they share.
“If you tell them we have a suspect and we’re close to an arrest, but it doesn’t go together, then everyone’s going to be disappointed or think you screwed it up or worse, go out and find out who the suspect is and try to take measures themselves, he said.
Miller says investigators are drawing on a trove of physical and scientific evidence, information from the community and national data on violent crimes to develop probable cause.
Public tips, photos and videos from the night of the students’ deaths are being analyzed, including more than 260 digital media submissions people submitted through an FBI tip, police said. Authorities have processed more than 1,000 tips and conducted at least 150 interviews to lead the case.
“Any one of those tips could be the missing link,” Miller said. “It could either be a lead connective tissue that you already had, but you’re missing a piece, or it could be a new one that solves the case.”
Every tip should be recorded in a searchable database so investigators can refer back to them when they learn new details, Miller says. While 95% to 99% of public tips may be worthless, one or more can ruin an entire case, he adds.
“The police in this case couldn’t be out there tonight washing another suspect and they could make an arrest tomorrow morning,” Miller said of the Idaho investigation. “Or for the suspects they’re working on today, it could take another month to gather enough evidence to find probable cause. It’s just something they can’t reveal until it happens.”