FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho — The defense attorney representing an Idaho woman accused in the murder of her children was ordered to step down from the case this week after the prosecution raised concerns that he had previously represented her husband, who is also charged in the killings.
Both Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell are charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, grand theft by deception, grand theft, and insurance fraud in the deaths of 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old JJ Vallow. The children, who were the product of Vallow's previous relationships, were found buried in Daybell's yard in June 2020.
Vallow, who investigators say had become convinced the children were "zombies" or infested with evil spirits, has been ruled mentally unfit to stand trial in the case.
Judge Steven Boyce opted to disqualify her defense attorney, Mark Means, saying in a Tuesday filing that he believed the fact that Means had also represented Daybell during the investigation into the missing children's whereabouts represented a conflict of interest.
According to the filing, Daybell retained his lawyer John Prior - who works in the same building as Means - in March 2020, after JJ and Tylee disappeared but before their bodies were discovered. Despite that, Daybell told others in conversation that Means was his lawyer, and Means said in court that he represented both the husband and wife. Daybell also called and spoke with Means over the phone while the FBI was searching his property the day the children's remains were found.
Later that same month, in front of Judge Faren Eddins, Means denied that he had ever officially represented Daybell. The judge was unconvinced, and asked the defendants to sign conflict waivers that essentially acknowledged the potential risks of having used the same lawyer.
In his ruling, Boyce opined that was not good enough.
"An actual conflict exists in this case due to Mr. Means’ former representation of Daybell, and the timing of that representation, and Daybell’s waiver is insufficient to overcome the risk of harm in allowing Mr. Means to remain counsel to any party connected to this case," he wrote. "Additionally, Mr. Means’ practice of submitting declarations under penalty of perjury have called into question his ability to competently and effectively represent Vallow going forward, despite the pending stay in this case."
Because this is a death penalty case, the stakes are even higher, the ruling concluded.
"Death is different," Boyce wrote. "The duties of the trial court are many but the overarching duty is clear: protect all Parties' rights to fair proceeding. Where capital punishment is legitimate potential, the Court’s duties to protect fair and orderly proceeding are unquestionable."
Vallow will be represented by defense attorney R. James Archibald going forward.
Daybell's murder trial is set to begin in January 2023; because of Vallow's mental incompetence finding, her trial date has not yet been set.
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