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Hearing held over whether to separate Daybell murder cases

Daybell Case

ST. ANTHONY — Chad Daybell’s attorney argued Friday that his client’s murder trial should be held separate from Lori Vallow Daybell’s but prosecutors said having one trial will save money and is more efficient.

John Prior’s motion to sever was held via Zoom before District Judge Steven Boyce. Chad Daybell appeared next to Prior from the Fremont County Jail wearing a white dress shirt and dark tie. Daybell said nothing during the hearing.

Chad and Lori Daybell are charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder 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. They were both indicted at the same time and the cases are currently connected.

“We have a trial that is set for January and it’s fast approaching. There’s a significant amount of preparation that needs to be done and there is going to be a significant difference as to how I prepare in the event the case is joined or separate,” Prior said.

court hearing
Chad Daybell and attorney John Prior, Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake, Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood and District Judge Steven Boyce. | Zoom screenshot

In a motion for severance filed in September, Prior argued that “if the cases and trial are not severed, the Defendant Chad Guy Daybell will not be afforded a fair and impartial trial.”

Lori Daybell’s case has been on hold since June as she was declared incompetent for trial. Few details about her mental health have been released because her case is sealed but earlier this month, court records show the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, along with two doctors, submitted reports to Boyce. It’s unknown what those reports contain but a closed hearing was held in her case last Friday.

RELATED | As competency questions loom, what’s next for Lori Vallow Daybell?

Fremont Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake asked Boyce to wait on issuing a decision on separating the case until more information is available on Lori Daybell’s case.

“It would be most appropriate in the interest of judicial economy and to preserve all rights of the parties that Ms. Vallow Daybell also be allowed to be heard regarding a motion to sever since this also affects her trial rights,” Blake said. “We believe that until a decision on the stay in her case is made, it would be premature to factor that into the decision to sever the cases.”

The trial for both Daybells is scheduled to begin in January in Ada County and is expected to last ten weeks. Blake pointed out that if the cases are separated, there would be a “significant impact with regard to costs for the counties involved as well as time for all the witnesses.”

“It would be 20 weeks to replicate the same evidence, require us to call all the same witnesses and use all the same staff and resources to do those trials,” she said.

Prior argued that his defense strategy will be different based on whether the cases remain joined or not. He asked Boyce to issue a decision soon.

“I don’t want any delay, Judge. I need a decision one way or the other whether this thing is going to be severed because I have a significant amount of preparation that I’m going to need to do and there’s going to be an impact on which way this goes,” Prior said.

Boyce said he will consider the arguments and issue his decision in writing.

Prior has also filed a motion to have the indictment and death penalty against Chad Daybell dismissed. A hearing on those issues is scheduled for March 23.

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