Idaho murders: Coroner weighs in on toxicology reports, describes her role in case

The Moscow coroner, who also happens to run her own law office in the center of town, said the toxicology reports for four slain University of Idaho students aren't relevant to the case. 

"They can be related to cause or manner of death, but they are not in this case," Cathy Mabbutt said of the tests that determine whether alcohol or drugs were in a person's system when they died. She added that the results are unlikely to offer any new clues for investigators.

The autopsies were performed by the Spokane Medical Examiner’s Office, but the full reports won’t reach Mabbutt’s hands until the toxicology results are back from the lab — typically three to eight weeks after the specimens are collected, she said. As of Thursday, the coroner had not received the results.

Mabbutt, who was elected Latah County coroner in 2006, was tasked with determining the cause and manner of death for murdered students Kaylee Goncalves, 21; Madison Mogen, 21; Ethan Chapin, 20; and Xana Kernodle, 20.

latah county coroner cathy mabbutt idaho murders

Latah County Coroner Cathy Mabbutt, left, and the four students who were stabbed to death Nov. 13 in a rental home near campus. (Courtesy of Cathy Mabbutt | Instagram)

The four friends were brutally stabbed to death Nov. 13 between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. inside a rental home near campus. Police have yet to track down a suspect in the grisly killings that have shaken the small college town of 25,000.

"It's been really difficult, especially not knowing who did it and not having someone in custody," Mabbutt told Fox News Digital in a sit-down interview Thursday.

Mabbutt visited the crime scene and reached out to each family member to disclose details from the autopsies.

The students were ambushed as they slept in their beds at 1122 King Road with a large fixed-blade knife, according to police and Mabbutt. Each victim had multiple stab wounds.


The belongings of the victims of the Univeristy of Idaho quadruple homicide are removed from the house in Moscow, Idaho, Wednesday, December 7, 2022. (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital)

"It had to be a really big knife to inflict those injuries and kill four people," she said.

Goncalves' father told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview Sunday that Mabbutt described the wounds as "tears" and "big open gouges."

At least one victim had defensive wounds, which suggested she awoke during the attack, Mabbutt noted.

"I deal with a lot of sadness, but this is pretty extreme," she said. "It's pretty unusual for us to get homicides, let alone four at a time."


An aerial map released by the Moscow City Police Department shows the final movements of Ethan Chapin, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Kaylee Goncalves before they were brutally killed Nov. 13. Inset, a photo of the victims. (Moscow City Police Depa

Mabbutt's duties as coroner involve investigating one to two suspicious deaths a week, and given her primary job as a defense lawyer, the two roles can intersect.

Her law office picked up convicted killer James Curtis Leonard's most recent bust for assault.

More than a decade earlier, Mabbutt was the coroner who determined the cause of death for the man Leonard shot dead outside his home in Genesee. Police have said he isn't connected to the slayings.

"I would never get appointed [as a defense lawyer] on a case where there's a murder or accidental death if they’re in Latah County because I'm a witness for the state," she said of the policies in place to prevent a conflict of interest.


A split photo showing the crime scene and the victims, including University of Idaho students Ethan Chapin, 20; Xana Kernodle, 20; Madison Mogen, 21; and Kaylee Goncalves, 21. (Derek Shook for Fox News Digital/ Instagram/ @xanakernodle/ @kayleegoncal

Before embarking on a career in law, Mabbutt worked full-time as an ER nurse at the local hospital. About six years ago, she chose to focus exclusively on her law practice. 

Moscow has had its share of killings, but the quadruple homicide is "the first time they haven’t known who did it in a short period of time," Mabbutt said.

RELATED: Idaho murders: Floor plan shows house where 4 college students were mysteriously killed one month ago

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The town had a particularly bloody year in May 2007 when Jason Hamilton murdered his wife at home, a Moscow police officer at the courthouse and a janitor at the First Presbyterian Church across the street before turning his weapon on himself.