ST. ANTHONY — A judge will issue a written decision on whether Chad and Lori Daybell’s trial will be severed, and the couple’s mental health will not be used as they try to convince a jury of their innocence.
These issues were discussed during a pretrial hearing Thursday at the Fremont County Courthouse. Dressed in a blue blouse and black dress pants, Lori took notes and chatted with her defense attorneys, Jim Archibald and John Thomas, throughout the morning. Chad wore dress pants with a white shirt and blue tie.
The couple is 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.
Their trial is scheduled to begin April 3 in Ada County, but John Prior, Chad’s attorney, urged District Judge Steven Boyce to sever the cases.
“We’re not going to be prepared for trial on that day,” Prior said. “The trial is going to start in 21 business days. To date, unless I’m mistaken, there is DNA evidence that is still outstanding that I don’t have in my possession.”
Prior argued that once he receives the DNA evidence, he and his team do not have sufficient time to evaluate it.
The evidence is hair currently being tested at a private lab in California because the Idaho State Lab could not sufficiently test it in a timely matter, according to Fremont County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tawnya Rawlings. She said they expect results on the DNA on Thursday.
“We don’t have the results now. We don’t know whether they were able to obtain anything. We just know they have the ability to test the hair in a more extensive manner than the state lab,” Rawlings said.
In addition to the DNA testing, Prior argued he has only recently received additional evidence from prosecutors and does not have enough time to go through it all. He accused them of playing a game of “catch me if you can” and said they have not been forthcoming.
“Either they’re trying to sandbag me, or there’s a lot of incompetence, and nobody’s watching or directing the ship,” Prior said. “And judge, for you to punish me and make me go through all this evidence at the last minute because they can’t get their act together, it’s not my fault.”
Prosecutors pushed back and insinuated Prior was exaggerating the amount of evidence he recently received. They did admit some items were turned over to him in the past few weeks because they were found during trial preparations but said the majority of the other evidence has been available to Prior since January 2021.
“The defendant has waited until the eve of trial to raise this issue,” Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake said. “The defendant did not request to come and look at the discovery he’s known about for two years. Now, on the eve of trial, he’s saying he was not given adequate time to review the evidence. The state has made accommodations any time the defense has asked to review discovery.”
Boyce did not rule on the motion to sever the cases but said he would issue a written order.
Attorneys for Chad and Lori Daybell said they will not use their clients’ mental health as a defense during the guilt phase of the trial, but it would be discussed if there is a penalty phase.
In death penalty cases, if the jury finds a defendant guilty, the trial then proceeds to a penalty phase where the arguments of witnesses and others are presented before a sentence is issued.
Prosecutors seemed more concerned with Lori’s mental health.
“The state absolutely intends to talk about issues regarding her beliefs during the guilt phase. With that, we are concerned the defense may then open the door to argue mental health as a defense of the crime,” Blake said.
Archibald responded that every mental health expert who has evaluated Lori says she does have a mental illness, and some question her competency to stand trial.
“The mental health evidence we intend to present is IF (emphasis added) she is convicted. She believes she will not be convicted, so the mental health evidence should not be presented,” Archibald said.
Lori’s defense attorney noted their witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial will be “very few.”
Larry and Kay Woodcock, JJ Vallow’s grandparents, traveled from Lousiana to attend the hearing. They believe Chad and Lori’s trial should remain joined.
“I think they should be together. I don’t see any reason for separating them. If the defense is not prepared, that’s the defense’s problem. They’re the ones who stood up long ago and said they’re ready for trial,” Larry Woodcock told EastIdahoNews.com. (Watch his comments in the video player above).
WATCH: CHAD AND LORI DAYBELL LEAVE COURT FOLLOWING HEARING
Woodcock said they will wait as long as it takes for justice to be served, and it’s “time to give those kids (JJ and Tylee) some rest.”
“We just want to move forward in a positive way. I don’t see the evidence proving anything different other than they are guilty as charged,” Woodcock said. “When this is over, they’re going to be sitting in jail for a lifetime, as far as we’re concerned.”
The next hearing scheduled in the case is on March 9 in Fremont County. Boyce mentioned the Ada County Courthouse is ready for the trial to begin in five weeks.