BOISE — Final preparations are underway in Ada County as Lori Vallow Daybell’s murder trial is scheduled to begin Monday.
The complicated case involving several states, multiple law enforcement agencies, an extensive investigation and a massive amount of evidence has made headlines around the world for the past three years after two of Daybell’s children were reported missing.
She was eventually charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan. Daybell is also charged with grand theft and conspiracy to commit murder for the death of her husband’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell.
Lori Daybell’s husband, Chad Daybell, faces similar charges but his trial has not yet been set.
Potential jurors have been dropping off questionnaires at the Ada County Courthouse this week as District Judge Steven Boyce, defense attorneys and prosecutors prepare for jury selection starting Monday.
The public can observe a live video feed of jury selection in a room at the Ada County Courtroom and a room in the Madison County Courthouse. Boyce ruled that only potential jurors are permitted in the actual courtroom while the jury is being picked.
“The potential jurors are called to the front of the room by the judge and the prosecution and the defense get a chance to ask them questions in a process called voir dire – a French word of meaning ‘to see and to say,'” explains David Leroy.
Leroy is a trial lawyer with five decades of experience who served as the Ada County Prosecuting Attorney, Idaho Attorney General and the Lt. Governor.
“The idea is to ask people questions about whether they can be fair, impartial and objective jurors in this case and decide the case only on the evidence they hear in the courtroom,” Leroy says.
Potential jurors will likely be asked how much they know about the case, if their mind is made up, if they are related to anyone involved in the investigation and other questions.
“The lawyers will have an opportunity to exercise what are called peremptory challenges, where they can decide that a particular juror might be less fair to their point of view and they can bump a certain number of people that way,” Leroy says. “While each side is looking for a fair and impartial juror, they’re also looking for somebody who might tend to favor their particular point of view.”
Jury selection in the Daybell case will likely last several days. Once all jurors have been picked, it will be time for opening arguments.
“Opening arguments are slightly misnamed in that they are really opening statements by each of the respective parties should they choose to give them,” Leroy explains. “They are designed to outline the evidence the jury is about to hear…and could probably explain what kinds of witnesses will be called.”
Following the prosecution’s opening arguments, the defense has the chance to give an opening statement or the attorneys can wait until later in the trial.
“There’s sometimes a tactical advantage in that the defense can make their arguments more poignant, more pointed, more specific, knowing what strengths or what weaknesses have been shown in the state’s case after the evidence is in,” Leroy explains.
Witnesses, evidence, and will Daybell take the stand?
Once opening arguments have concluded, witnesses will be called to testify and evidence will be presented.
It’s unknown how many witnesses will be questioned during the trial but prosecutors have filed court documents listing a few, including Daybell’s niece Melani Pawlowski, Daybell’s friends Melanie Gibb and David Warwick, police investigators and others. Zulema Pastenes, the widow of Alex Cox, Daybell’s deceased brother, is also on the witness list.
A massive amount of evidence will be shown to the jury, including terabytes of data, videos, audio files, text messages, emails and other items. DNA, along with expert analysis, will also be presented.
Daybell refused to answer questions when approached by EastIdahoNews.com in January 2020 and when law enforcement brought her back to the Rexburg airport weeks later. She has remained silent at court hearings and has not spoken publicly about the case but that could change should she take the stand.
“There’s no way to tell whether a defendant will take the stand at this early stage,” Leroy says. “In this case, we do know that Lori’s team has put in alibi defenses indicating that in the homicide of her children, she was in her own apartment with witnesses who can prove that she was there. And in the case of Tammy’s death, she was in Hawaii with witnesses who can prove she was there. That gives her the opportunity to prove her alibi by other witnesses, or possibly by taking the stand herself.”
Should Daybell take the stand, the prosecution would have the opportunity to cross-examine her.
Closing arguments, verdict and sentencing
Once every witness has taken the stand and all evidence is presented, it’s time for closing arguments. The prosecution gets two opportunities for final statements, as they have the burden of proof in the case.
“The prosecution goes first and then the defense would get their turn to cast about for reasonable doubt,” Leroy says. “Then finally, the prosecution gets to once again poke back at the defense and conclude that the jury should find a guilty verdict.”
Boyce will give instructions to the jury, who deliberates until they have a verdict. If Daybell is found not guilty, she will be free to leave the courthouse immediately. If the jury finds her guilty, Boyce will likely order a pre-sentence investigation that could take several weeks or months to complete.
A sentencing date will be set and at that time, victims will speak or present statements about how the alleged crimes have affected them. Boyce will then hand down his sentence.
EastIdahoNews.com reporter Nate Eaton will be in Boise every day providing live updates from the trial. He will also host “Courtroom Insider: The Lori Daybell case” live at 7:30 p.m. weeknights. You can also sign up here for the Daybell Digest – a free nightly newsletter recapping the events from the courtroom each day.