May 31, 2023

A 12-member jury decided the fate of Lori Vallow Daybell on Friday as dozens of onlookers — family members, friends, reporters and podcasters — awaited the impending verdict in her criminal trial. The jury of five women and seven men convicted the 49-year-old Rexburg mother of the murder of two of her children.

Guilty of two first-degree murders, the 49-year-old woman now has the same convictions that Gerald Pizzuto and Thomas Creech had when they were put on Idaho’s death row. If Vallow Daybell had been guilty of one count of conspiracy to murder — she was found guilty of three — she would still have been eligible for execution, prosecutors said.

But for Vallow Daybell, the death penalty is no longer an option.

Two weeks before a slew of potential jurors made their way to the Ada County Courthouse in early April, 7th District Judge Steven Boyce struck out the death penalty as a possible sentence for Vallow Daybell.

Jessica Bublitz, a Boise attorney, told the Idaho Statesman in a telephone interview that “it is very unusual” for a judge to hand down the death penalty.

In fact, it has never happened before in Idaho. Boyce said he couldn’t find a case in the state that had been considered or decided on the abolition of the death penalty — meaning there is no precedent for the decision in Idaho, according to an audio recording of the March hearing published by Eastern Idaho News.

Boyce’s decision came after the Vallow Daybell defense team asked Boyce to reject execution as an option. The March 5 motion listed several reasons, including an allegation that the prosecution committed “multiple discovery violations” by submitting thousands of documents and evidence after a time limit set by the court.

Defense counsel doesn’t know what we don’t have.

Why Vallow Daybell can’t be sentenced to death

To convict Vallow Daybell of first-degree murder for JJ and Tylee, the jury had to conclude that she killed her children, or encouraged or ordered someone else to do so. Anyone convicted of first-degree murder is eligible for the death penalty in Idaho, under state law, if the state can prove there was an “aggravating circumstance” — for example, committing more than one murder at a time, the creating a “great risk” to the public, or killing someone in a particularly gruesome, gruesome or cruel way.

Three years ago, authorities found the remains of 7-year-old Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan buried in shallow graves on the property of Chad Daybell, Vallow Daybell’s husband.

The Daybells were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and believed that dark spirits can possess bodies and must be cast out, causing death. Prosecutors in the indictment accused the Daybells of espousing religious beliefs “for the purpose of justifying” or encouraging the killings.

When lawyers began prosecuting the criminal case, investigators passed on new information during the discovery process — meaning the defense received new information when the prosecution learned about it.

The cases of Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell, who were initially expected to be tried together, were separated in early March, when test results for a possible piece of DNA evidence – a hair sample found at the crime scene – were released. used to be according to a recording of the hearing published by the East Idaho News.

Boyce noted that Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell complained of delays in receiving evidence and argued that the “large amounts” of information revealed too close to the impending trial “hampered the defense’s ability to prepare “.

Bublitz told the Statesman that Boyce has a duty to ensure that the discovery process is fair. “There’s a responsibility everywhere,” she said, because it’s part of the judge’s job to determine whether certain evidence can be admitted if it’s submitted too late.

“These revelations came at a time in the case when Lori’s counsel really wouldn’t have time to go through everything,” Bublitz said. “It puts you between a rock and a hard place. You have to be able to go through them in time.”

Boyce said the items unveiled in March were “undeniably” and “inexcusably” late. He pointed to the large disclosure of evidence that was dropped the day after the deadline, plus the additional discovery that was not provided to the defense until weeks after the initial deadline.

Boyce also noted that leaving the death penalty on the table could get in the way of sentencing.

“If I fail to address this discovery issue, I believe this case will inevitably be overturned on appeal if there is a principal conviction,” Boyce said. The defense agreed, saying in its motion that “any death sentence” would be overturned, forcing the case to start over.

In the end, Boyce’s decision in late March to abolish the death penalty was not to “punish the state,” but to ensure that Vallow Daybell’s constitutional rights were protected and to give her attorneys a chance to reasonably defend themselves against the alleged death penalty. crimes. Boyce noted that he and Vallow Daybell’s attorney, Jim Archibald, have been working with the prosecution, calling them “honest prosecutors.”

“This is not the result of a single discovery violation, but rather the cumulative effect of a discovery disclosure coming too close to litigation,” Boyce said.

The prosecution said in a written statement it was “disappointed” and disagreed with Boyce’s decision, the East Idaho News reported.

“We will continue to vigorously pursue justice,” prosecutors said.

The death penalty is still an option in Chad Daybell’s trial, which is expected to take place next year.

Vallow Daybell took “a risk” in going ahead with the trial

While Boyce said no case in Idaho has considered overturning the death penalty, Boyce cited a 2012 federal felony case that charged a man with two felonies related to the murder of a guard at a Puerto Rico naval base .

Former U.S. District Judge José Fusté barred the prosecution from seeking the death penalty, according to the judge’s order. Fusté found that the government’s lawyers were reluctant to release information, and the court practically forced the prosecution to turn over evidence to the defense, the order said.

Boyce said he’s overseen hundreds of their previous cases, including homicide, and this has not been an issue before.

The harshest sentence Vallow Daybell can receive is life in prison.

The “logical remedy” for the violations, Boyce said, would have been to postpone the trial, but Vallow Daybell has “unequivocally asserted her right to a speedy trial.” A criminal trial is expected to begin six months after a person pleads not guilty, if a defendant does not waive their right to a speedy trial.

Daybell was found guilty of all six felonies on Friday. In addition to two first-degree murders, she was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to commit murder for her children, along with Chad Daybell’s then-wife, Tammy Daybell, and grand larceny for stealing government benefits.

“I would like to warn the defendant – her lawyers have also warned her – that by insisting on going ahead with the trial now, knowing there is additional evidence that they do not want to deal with, that is a risk,” said Boyce in March.