ST. ANTHONY – Chad Daybell’s defense will be “diametrically” different from his wife’s, and their trials should be held separately, his attorney says.
Chad and Lori Vallow 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 kids – along with Chad’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell.
Their death penalty cases are conjoined, but during a hearing with District Judge Steven Boyce at the Fremont County Courthouse on Thursday morning, John Prior, Chad’s attorney, argued they need to be severed.
“Our version of the facts of this case will differ greatly from what Ms. Vallow and her legal counsel are going to be presenting,” Prior said. “Our defense is diametrically different than Ms. Vallow’s, and the cases need to be separated.”
Wearing a white shirt and dark red tie, Chad sat silently next to Prior for the hourlong hearing. Boyce did not allow cameras in the courtroom. A few members of the public and several Rexburg Police and Fremont County Sheriff detectives observed proceedings.
The hearing was scheduled after Prior filed a lengthy motion to sever in September.
“There is a significant amount of information in this case, and the result could be the defendant is put to death. Given the severity of consequences, the courts and federal courts have made it a habit to sever capital cases,” Prior argued.
Prior mentioned that Chad has waived his right to a speedy trial while Lori has not. Her case is on hold until her mental competency can be determined. A hearing was held on that issue Wednesday afternoon, but it’s unknown what occurred as proceedings were sealed.
Lori also faces a conspiracy to commit murder charge in Arizona for the death of her fourth husband, Charles Vallow. Prior said he plans to use information from that case during his defense arguments for Chad.
“There was a documentary done by Netflix that portrayed this case in a way I don’t necessarily agree with. … They talked about the allegations of what Ms. Vallow was allegedly involved in down in Arizona,” Prior said. “I am going to be petitioning the court to allow me to use a certain amount of information as it relates to Arizona.”
Prior also mentioned a concern about gender stereotyping and referenced to evidence that shows when it comes to capital cases, juries sentence men to death more often than women.
Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake argued against the motion for severance and said Prior had not met the “heavy burden” defendants bear to have a judge sever a case.
“Severance is last-ditch effort. It’s meant to be used when no other remedy is available,” Blake said.
Blake argued joint trials are preferred for multiple reasons including minimalizing the risk of inconsistent verdicts, efficiently using court, government and witness resources, and they can prevent gamesmanship.
She said the evidence and witnesses in the Daybell cases are similar “if not identical,” and it only makes sense to keep them together.
“This is set to be a 10-week trial. We are talking about a severance that would result in a total of 20-week trials between the two,” Blake said.
Blake suggested one solution to potential problems could be having two juries in session during the joint trial – one for Lori and one for Chad. If witness or evidence issues were raised that did not apply to one defendant, that particular jury could leave the courtroom.
Boyce asked if there had been confessions to the crimes from either Chad or Lori. Blake and Prior both said they were unaware of any.
The judge said he will consider the motion to sever and issue a written order at a later date. Both Chad and Lori have pleaded not guilty to all charges. A trial date has not been set.
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