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Prosecutor asks judge to ban video cameras at Daybell preliminary hearings

Daybell Case

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Lori Vallow Daybell’s first court apperance in Madison County on March 6. | EastIdahoNews.com file photo

ST. ANTHONY — The prosecutor in the Chad and Lori Daybell cases is asking a judge not to allow any video coverage of their upcoming preliminary hearings.

In a motion filed Friday, Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood asked Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins to reconsider his order governing courtroom conduct and allowing cameras. On July 7, Eddins ruled that four members of the media can take photos and operate a pooled video camera to broadcast the hearing for the public.

“Allowing broadcasting/live—streaming of the preliminary hearing will make it more difficult to pick an un-biased jury in Fremont County,” Wood wrote in a memo to support his motion. “Picking a jury in this case will be difficult and time consuming due to the already existing media coverage.”

Wood acknowledges the defendants have rights to a public hearing and the public has rights when it comes to criminal cases. But he says when it comes time to pick a jury, extra time and effort will have to be made for jurors who have viewed the preliminary hearing.

“The motion is not for a closed or sealed hearing, but simply that the preliminary hearing in this case be treated the same as nearly every other preliminary hearing where there are no video cameras in the courtroom,” Wood wrote.

While Wood mentions he has no intention to make the hearing closed to the public, an Idaho Supreme Court order issued in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic limits who can attend court proceedings. Most hearings are not open to the public and are streamed over YouTube or Zoom.

EastIdahoNews.com and other local media outlets have covered high profile preliminary hearings with video cameras in the courtroom. Last year, a judge allowed local TV stations to bring cameras in for the preliminary of Brian L. Dripps, the man accused of killing and raping Angie Dodge. In 2015, EastIdahoNews.com recorded the preliminary hearing for Brian Mitchell, a man accused of murdering another man at an Idaho Falls park.

“The public and press constitutionally have a right to be there, but they have under American common law no right to see a live broadcast,” said Idaho State University Media Law Professor Zac Gershberg. “That is at the discretion of the judge.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many judges have allowed a conference call or video link for the public to watch court proceedings statewide. In previous Daybell hearings, Seventh District judges have allowed a live video stream.

“I think if they’re going to severely limit the number people present during Coronavirus, then constitutionally they should make the stream available,” Gershberg said. “If the judge agrees (with the motion) and locks out the courtroom and doesn’t provide the stream, then we’re talking about something that would likely go to the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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 will begin on Aug. 10.

Although the hearings will happen in person, courtroom attendance is still limited due to COVID-19. An order filed this month limits attendance to the judge, court staff, attorneys, assistance, defendants, witnesses, and family members of JJ and Tylee.

It’s unknown when Eddins will respond to the motion.

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