East Idaho News reporter subpoenaed in Chad and Lori Daybell case - East Idaho News
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East Idaho News reporter subpoenaed in Chad and Lori Daybell case

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IDAHO FALLS — East Idaho News reporter Nate Eaton has been subpoenaed to testify as part of the Chad and Lori Daybell case.

The order was filed by Chad’s attorney, John Prior, on Monday; however, as of Tuesday morning, neither Eaton nor East Idaho News had officially been served the paperwork.

Both Chad and his wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, are charged with conspiracy to conceal or destroy evidence, and Chad is charged with concealment/destruction of evidence after the bodies of Lori’s children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, were found buried on Chad’s Salem property last summer.

The two-page document requests Eaton appear before the court during a hearing in St. Anthony on June 9.

It’s not clear why Prior has issued the subpoena, or why Eaton has been requested to testify.

Eaton expressed some surprise at the notice, which appeared in Facebook groups following the case late Monday. In response, Eaton and East Idaho News have retained an attorney and intend to fight the subpoena.

East Idaho News company policy prevents reporters from actively being involved in any judicial proceedings related to a story they are covering.

This is the second time the media has been brought into the Daybell court proceedings. Last July, East Idaho News led a cadre of nine local, regional, and national media outlets in legally opposing a motion to ban video cameras inside the courtroom during preliminary hearings for the couple. The media partnership was successful, and Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins denied the motion.

RELATED | East Idaho News joins with other media in opposing request to ban cameras from Daybell hearings

The fact Prior is wanting Eaton to testify on behalf of the defense is unusual, according to Idaho State University Journalism Professor Zac Gershberg. Typically, when a journalist is called upon to testify, it is for the prosecution, and the purpose of the subpoena is to learn information gleaned from the newsgathering process.

It’s a fairly common practice for journalists to fight subpoenas based on ethical obligations.

“Part of being a journalist is newsgathering,” Gershberg said. “It could compromise a reporter’s ability to interview sources or gain their trust if they know the reporter might testify and give up the goods in court.”

Gershberg emphasized that journalists try very hard not to become involved in the stories they are covering.

“Not only might this compromise a journalist’s ability to cover this case, but their ability to report on future cases might also be damaged,” he said.

The majority of states in the country have shield laws, which protect journalists from having to testify. However, Idaho is one of a dozen or so states without a shield law, which means every instance of journalists being subpoenaed is handled individually. One of the most recent cases in Idaho was a subpoena of Associated Press reporter Keith Ridler by activist Ammon Bundy’s defense. That order was successfully quashed in March.

East Idaho News has reached out to Prior for a statement on the order and will update this article if he replies.

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Chad Daybell, left, confers with defense attorney John Prior during Chad Daybell’s preliminary hearing in Fremont County on Monday, August 3, 2020. Daybell is being charged with destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence and conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, both felony charges. The remains of Lori Vallow Daybell’s two children were found on Chad Daybell’s property. | John Roark, Post Register