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Preliminary hearings for Chad and Lori Daybell to happen in person

Daybell Case

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Lori and Chad Daybell confronted in Hawaii by EastIdahoNews.com in January. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

ST. ANTHONY — A judge determined in-person hearings for Chad and Lori Daybell will happen in August.

“The defendant has a right to be present during the preliminary hearing,” Magistrate Judge Farren Eddins wrote in his findings Thursday for Chad and Lori’s separate cases. “The defendant has a right to confront and cross-examine witnesses in person. In order to preserve an adequate recording of the proceeding and to preserve the defendant’s rights, the defendant must be present in the courtroom with his (or her) attorney.”

The Daybells are facing felony charges in Fremont County after investigators discovered the remains of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan buried in the backyard of Chad’s Salem home. Court dockets indicate Chad’s hearing will start on Aug. 3 and Lori’s on Aug. 10.

Eddins held recent initial appearances for Lori and Chad respectively over Zoom as the Idaho Supreme Court issued an Emergency Reduction in Court Services and Limitation of Access to Court Facilities on April 22. The order came as a measure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and dramatically changed how court proceedings took place across the state.

Magistrate Judge Farren Eddins. | File photo

The order allows judges to use their discretion to hold a hearing in person “because of the court’s needs or to prevent undue prejudice to a party.”

Eddins determined the size of the courtroom in Fremont County allows those in attendance at the hearings to maintain social distancing. Court staff plans to install protective plexiglass along the bench and the witness stand to protect the health of those at the hearing. On Thursday, Fremont County court staff said they expect completion of the installation early next week.

Although the hearings will happen in person, courtroom attendance is still limited. An order filed this week limits attendance to the judge, court staff, attorneys, assistance, defendants, witnesses, and family members of JJ and Tylee.

Four media personal are also allowed to attend: three to operate the video camera for broadcasting and recording of the hearing, and one to take still photos. The public will have access to the images and videos, according to the order.

The Idaho Supreme Court order also prohibits jury trials to start in criminal cases before Aug. 3. Many judges have streamed and will continue to stream other hearings over YouTube so the public can still have access.

“Presumptively, hearings will be in electronic format by Zoom,” said District 7 Trial Court Administrator Tammie Whyte. “A judge can make a finding that a particular hearing will need to be in person as things stand right now.”

But in-person hearings won’t look as they did before the pandemic.

“When we get to jury trials, that would obviously be in person, and that would look very different,” Whyte said. “We’re working on our plans right now for what that will look like.”

District 7 plans on maintaining social distancing measures and following recommended health guidelines as in-person hearings resume. Some counties like Fremont are installing plexiglass, and the juries may spread out among the courtroom. Court staff expects to have finalized plans closer to next month.

“We’re really just trying to do our best so that the courts are getting hearings done as safely as we can,” Whyte said.

You can watch the Daybell hearings on EastIdahoNews.com in August.

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