No decision yet on change in venue in Chad Daybell case
ST. ANTHONY – After an hours-long change-of-venue hearing Tuesday, it’s not clear if Chad Daybell’s trial will be moved from Fremont County.
The hearing came after Daybell’s attorney, John Prior, asked for his client’s murder trial to be moved from Fremont County, arguing that a fair and impartial jury cannot be found in the 7th Judicial District. COVID-19 precautions led to the hearing being held virtually over Zoom.
Daybell and his wife Lori Vallow Daybell are charged with multiple crimes, including conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder. The charges are in relation to the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan — two of Lori’s kids — and Chad’s first wife, Tammy Daybell.
At the end of the hearing, District Judge Steven Boyce said he needed time to review all the documents submitted as evidence, which included data on media viewership. Boyce said he will give a written decision in the near future.
Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood and Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake have said in court filings they would not object to a partial change of venue to limit the chance of appeals. Prosecutors have asked the trial still be held in Fremont County but want jurors selected from another county and sequestered.
The motion for sequestration of the jury was continued after Prior asked for additional time to prepare to argue his position.
At the start of Tuesday’s hearing, Wood asked for the entire change of venue hearing to be sealed and not held in public view. Prior objected, saying his client has a right to have the hearing in the public. Boyce agreed, and the hearing continued to be live-streamed.
Both prosecutors and Prior said extensive media coverage of the Daybell case must be considered as a factor in moving the trial or keeping it in place. In his argument, Prior talked about coverage from EastIdahoNews.com and signs up across St. Anthony and Rexburg that referred to “justice for JJ and Tylee.”
CHANGE OF VENUE HEARING PART 1
“That is a constant reminder for anyone who drives into St. Anthony and sees the publicity being presented,” Prior said.
Prior said the Daybell case has drawn more media attention than any other case he can remember in recent history. He said perhaps the only other case would be of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
“The reality is what we need to do is get this out of an area — that is a rural community that has made up their mind,” Prior said. “… If we were to move the case, Boise would be the best place to try to find jurors. … It just doesn’t make sense to keep it here.”
In his list of choices of locations for a trial, Prior said if Ada County is not chosen for a trial, he would then like Twin Falls County. Bannock County would be his third choice.
Wood conceded there had been a lot of pre-trial publicity, but that argued that publicity by itself does not require a change of venue. He also asserted that there is little evidence that anyone has been prejudiced against the case.
“Mr. Prior has not provided one witness to state they’ve been prejudiced. He has not provided one affidavit,” Wood said.
Earlier in the hearing, Prior tried to submit a survey into evidence. In February, Prior and Lori’s defense attorney, Mark Means, hired Ironwood insights, an Arizona marketing research firm to conduct a survey in Bonneville, Fremont, Jefferson and Madison counties on the Daybell case.
David Bryant, the vice-president of analytics for the company, testified about the survey that asked people their opinions about Daybell’s guilt or innocence.
Bryant testified that of the 177 people who took the survey, 82.4% said the couple was guilty, 3.4% said they were innocent until proven guilty and 11.4% needed more information to decide. Only one person who took the survey said Chad and Lori were not guilty. However, 6 out of 10 people said they felt Chad and Lori can get a fair trial in the four counties surveyed.
Eighteen of the people who took the survey were in Fremont County, according to Bryant. Fremont County census data shows there are a little over 13,000 people in the rural eastern Idaho county. Boyce ultimately ruled that because of the small number of Fremont County citizens who took the survey, the poll would not be considered in the change of venue hearing.
Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries testified on behalf of prosecutors about the financial and time impacts of having Fremont County deputies and detectives travel to testify in another county. At this point, Humphries said it’s not possible to estimate the cost without knowing where the trial will be held or how long the trial would last.
Humphries did testify that having Chad tried in Fremont County would be more economical as there would not be travel costs as well as trying to maintain other day-to-day duties in Fremont County.
The hearing turned heated when Prior began questioning Humphries about a June 11, 2020, Facebook post that he shared on his personal Facebook page. The post was created by a Fremont County citizen who posted photos of a memorial for JJ and Tylee, the day after they were found. The post did not mention the Daybells.
Prior argued that because of the post, Humphries should not have any decisions in Chad’s trial. Humphries responded saying he doesn’t make choices in Chad’s proceedings.
Rexburg Police Chief Shane Turman also took the stand after being called as a witness by prosecutors. He too said the city would incur travel costs having the trial in a place outside of Fremont County. Additionally, having the trial out of the area would also strain the department’s workload, according to Turman.
The hearing also touched on the data given to attorneys by EastIdahoNews.com regarding viewership data. You can read more about that here.
Wood explained that EastIdahoNews’s top cities for viewership are Salt Lake City and second (was) Boise. Wood said no Fremont County cities appear in the top 50 cities with EastIdahoNews.com’s greatest amount of viewers. That is largely because of the lower population in Fremont County.
Lori’s case is on hold after Boyce committed her to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare in June. A mental health professional deemed Lori was not fit for trial. Prosecutors objected to having Tuesday’s hearing because Lori was not able to participate.
The next public hearings for Chad and Lori are not yet scheduled.