ST. ANTHONY — A judge denied a request to postpone the murder trial for Chad and Lori Daybell, and they will not be permitted to have face-to-face meetings or phone calls to prepare for trial.
District Judge Steven Boyce made the rulings during a two-and-a-half-hour court hearing in Fremont County Thursday morning. Lori Vallow Daybell appeared in a pink blouse and dark dress pants, while Chad Daybell wore a white shirt and tie. The couple rarely looked at each other as their attorneys argued motions on their behalf. Cameras were not allowed in the hearing.
Lori and Chad Daybell are charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan – two of Lori’s children – along with Chad’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell.
Request for joint settlement and ‘strategy sessions’
Jim Archibald and John Thomas, Lori’s defense attorneys, filed a motion this month asking permission for the Daybells to meet in person and on the phone for “strategy sessions” ahead of the April trial.
“The two defendants would like to be able to talk about their settlement options,” Archibald said, noting that prosecutors sent him a letter asking if Lori was interested in settling the case. “We need to be able to talk settlement and plan strategy. As we prepare for settlement conferences, as we prepare for mediation, I am asking for an order from the court, and I’d like it to start today.”
Archibald said Lori and Chad, along with their attorneys, would attend the meetings, and a sheriff’s deputy could stand outside the door for security. He requested regular conferences, which would not be recorded or used in court, from now until April.
Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake expressed “significant” concerns over the idea.
“Each defendant has an attorney-client privilege with their respective counsel. They do not have that same privilege with their co-defendant’s counsel,” Blake said.
She mentioned that if Chad said something incriminating in front of Lori’s attorneys, they become witnesses and are not protected with attorney-client privilege. She also addressed settling the case.
“There can be no settlement conference if the state is not a party to that. The request is not to have the state present in these meetings, so there could be no settlement negotiations unless the state is there,” she said.
John Prior, Chad’s attorney, expressed support for the meetings but took issue with the word “strategizing.”
“I’m not going to strategize with anybody. I’m going to present our defense in this case,” Prior said. “The process is going to be trial prep. There’s going to be no strategizing. This is trial prep.”
Boyce said he understood the rationale of the request but explained, “it’s an idea full of pitfalls that would far outweigh any consequences” before denying the motion.
Request to sequester jury
Prosecutors argued the jury should be sequestered when the trial begins on April 3 in Ada County. It’s scheduled to last up to 10 weeks.
“We are very worried, given the nature of this case, given the publicity, that if the court does not sequester the jury for the duration of the trial, there will be problems keeping the jury secure and making them have no contact with parties about this case,” prosecutor Rachel Smith argued.
Smith acknowledged sequestering a jury is costly and hardship for jurors but said the seriousness of the case requires it.
“This case involves the death of two children and the death of a mother of multiple children,” she said. “If there are no safeguards provided to jurors, given the attention of some of the citizen journalists on this case, we have real concerns about the integrity of this case.”
Archibald noted he would normally agree with sequestering a jury in high-profile cases, but the trial length worries him, and he opposed the motion.
“Having the jury sequestered for over two months – no contact with home, no contact with children – it’s going to limit our jury pool,” he said. “Our jury pool is going to consist of who? Retirees? Nobody with a job? Nobody with a business to run?”
Prior also objected to sequestering the jury and argued the Ada County and Fremont County sheriff’s offices could provide adequate security for jurors.
“The only thing you’re doing is stopping a bunch of jurors from reading the paper or getting on the internet. You can instruct them about that, judge. You don’t need to lock up a jury for two months like prisoners,” Prior said.
Boyce said he understood the positions of both sides but denied the request to sequester.
“I believe adequate steps can be put into place to not require sequestration during the course of the trial, and the court will take those steps very seriously,” Boyce said.
Request to continue trial
Prior asked Boyce to delay the trial until April 2024 as he is awaiting potential DNA evidence from the Idaho State Lab that he worries will take time to get back.
“There is no way that DNA evidence will be done, and even if it’s provided to me tomorrow, I’m going to need a specific time to have my expert test it and make their own conclusions,” he said. “If I don’t get that evidence, Mr. Daybell is going to file an ineffective counsel against me. And as much as I like Chad, he’s going to do it, and he won’t hesitate to do it. Then this case will be turned over because I was not provided an opportunity to adequately prepare.”
Boyce asked Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake if there was currently outstanding evidence that has not been disclosed.
“There was a potential source of DNA evidence that was located,” she responded. “The state lab personnel does not believe through testing they are going to get any DNA back, but could it be exculpatory? We don’t know. The state lab was going to test those items, but were not hopeful they could get DNA.”
Prosecutors objected to delaying proceedings, and Boyce said his hands were tied because the case is joined with two defendants and one of them, Lori, had not waived her right to a speedy trial.
“The overarching concern is that one defendant, Mr. Daybell, is requesting to have it set another year out,” Boyce said. “The co-defendant has unequivocally asserted her right to a speedy trial. She has never equivocated at all about wanting things to go without delay. I would be very, very concerned if I were to set a trial out for another year in April.”
Boyce denied the request to continue but said he will not “force” Chad into a trial if he and Prior have not had enough time to examine the evidence.
“If we are on the eve of trial and the state has exculpatory evidence and did not provide Mr. Prior enough time, at that point, the cases may be severed,” Boyce said.
Death penalty arguments
Lori’s attorney filed four motions asking Boyce to take the death penalty off the table. Archibald acknowledged the motions were routine in death penalty cases and admitted they would likely be taken up at the appellate court level.
Still, he said the death penalty is flawed, expensive, and brings a bias to jury selection.
“As a death penalty lawyer who has done many of these cases, we try to settle before we get to the point,” he said. “Some death penalty lawyers would say if you’re already in trial, you’ve lost because the jury is prone to convict and give a death sentence. The jury is basically given a license to kill.”
Archibald read the names of the eight people on death row in Idaho – one of whom has been awaiting death for 30 years. He said the process was long, complicated and rarely led to execution.
“Why does Idaho seek to kill someone when they have no intention of carrying it out? Our process is flawed. It’s replete with mistakes. The appeals process will go on forever if the state receives its wish of the death penalty; in this case, that is why I’m asking the court to stop this nonsense now and rule the capital punishment scheme unconstitutional,” he said.
Wood objected to the idea of dropping the death penalty and said the prosecution’s case will prove Lori intended for her children and Tammy Daybell to die.
Boyce said he would take the death penalty motions under advisement and issue written orders.
Chad and Lori Daybell have pleaded not guilty to all charges. The next court hearing in the case is scheduled on Feb. 9 in Fremont County.