Idaho judge makes ruling on possibility of death penalty in Lori Daybell’s murder case

EastIdahoNews.com file

The death penalty is no longer an option in the trial for Lori Vallow Daybell.

Daybell was shackled as she entered the courtroom at the Fremont County Courthouse in St. Anthony on Tuesday morning. Her husband, Chad Daybell, did not attend the hearing, as their cases were separated last month by a judge.

Lori and Chad 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.

During Tuesday’s hearing, District Judge Steven Boyce made a ruling on a motion to dismiss the death penalty for Lori, and he granted it “to ensure the rights of the defendant to a fair trial are protected.”

“The court does not impose this sanction to penalize the state, but to ensure that the constitutional right of the defendant is protected to allow for her reasonable defense to prepare for this trial,” Boyce said.

Since Chad and Lori’s cases are now separate, the decision to remove the death penalty applies only to Lori’s case. Her trial begins on April 3.

The death penalty decision is heavily tied to other motions from the defense to compel prosecutors to turn over all written and recorded statements made by Chad while in custody, and a motion to exclude certain evidence from the trial.

In a hearing last Wednesday, Lori’s attorney, John Thomas, said he’d received about 3,000 phone calls and recordings of five in-custody visits involving Chad. Thomas did not specify whom Chad was speaking to or visiting with.

Noting how quickly the trial is approaching, Thomas cited concern about the ability to sift through it all.

“The court finds … it’s not necessary to compel any further discovery,” Boyce said, noting that prosecutors have complied with previous requests from the defense to provide all necessary evidence.

Last week, Lori’s attorneys asked Boyce to exclude evidence prosecutors disclosed to them on Feb. 27 at 4:07 p.m. Boyce issued an order on Dec. 27 stating all evidence must be submitted “prior to” Feb. 27.

Boyce noted that, procedurally, “disclosures were late and deadlines were missed.” But he repeatedly said there was no misconduct on behalf of the prosecutors.

He is expected to issue a written ruling Wednesday on the motion to exclude certain evidence from the trial.

There were other factors Boyce considered in his ruling on the death penalty. At one point, he noted Lori’s desire for the case to proceed to trial and said the amount of evidence coming forward puts her at risk. He agreed with the defense that there isn’t enough time to examine “the deluge of discovery” in the next two weeks.

“I would caution the defendant … by insisting on going forward with the trial now, knowing there’s additional evidence they are not prepared to address (is) a risk,” said Boyce. “The decision to continue forward without a continuance is a decision only the defendant, with the competent advice of her counsel, can make.”

Lori has never wavered from her decision, Boyce said, so the trial will happen.

Regarding Boyce’s decision to remove the death penalty, Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood and Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsay Blake issued the following statement:

“While we are disappointed and respectfully disagree with today’s decision, we will continue to vigorously pursue justice for Tammy, Tylee and JJ.”

Lori Daybell is scheduled to be transported to the Ada County Jail no later than March 25. Potential jurors will complete questionnaires at the courthouse on March 27-28.

A trial date has not been set for Chad now that his and his wife’s cases have been severed. He and Lori have pleaded not guilty to all charges.