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Legal expert: Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohberger could have more plea flexibility for "standing silent"

Not guilty pleas for Idaho murders suspect
Judge enters not guilty pleas on behalf of Bryan Kohberger, suspect in Idaho murders 01:56

Bryan Kohberger, the man accused of killing four University of Idaho students, said almost nothing in court on Monday.

Kohberger, 28, appeared before a judge to face four counts of first-degree murder and one count of burglary. He looked straight ahead as the judge informed him that he could face the death penalty for each murder charge. He said he understood the maximum penalty.

But when he was asked about pleading to the charges, his attorney said he would be "standing silent" — prompting the judge to enter not guilty pleas on his behalf. 

Standing silent has the same legal effect as entering a not guilty plea, and it could give the defendant more options during any potential plea negotiations, according to CBS News legal contributor Jessica Levinson. 

"He keeps on the table the possibility that he could plead guilty in exchange for not receiving the death penalty," Levinson said. 

Prosecutors allege that Kohberger broke into an off-campus house last November and fatally stabbed Ethan Chapin, a 20-year-old from Conway, Washington; Madison Mogen, a 21-year-old from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Xana Kernodle, 20, from Avondale, Arizona; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21, from Rathdrum, Idaho.   

Prosecutors have 60 days to decide whether they will pursue the death penalty. The case could go to trial as soon as October. 

Some family members of the victims were present in the courtroom, including Steve Goncalves, the father of Kaylee Goncalves. He expressed a mix of surprise and difficulty in facing Kohberger. 

It was "a little unusual for me to know you could go and not make a plea. But it's not easy. It's not easy to look at somebody and know that there's a very likely possibility that they're responsible for doing these type of behaviors," Steve Goncalves said. 

Alivea Goncalves, the sister of Kaylee Goncalves, described Kohberger as appearing barely human. 

"There wasn't much that I felt that I had to fear there. It felt very weak," Goncalves said. 

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