FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho — An eastern Idaho judge has decided to split the cases for the couple accused of murder and conspiracy in the deaths of three people, including two children whose disappearance in the fall of 2019 made headlines around the nation,
East Idaho News reported Thursday.
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow were scheduled to stand trial together on April 3, but in a hearing that lasted nearly two hours Thursday morning, Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce agreed to sever the cases and postpone Chad Daybell's trial, which will be rescheduled at a later date.
In an indictment issued in May of 2021, the couple are charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy in the deaths of Joshua "JJ" Vallow, Tylee Ryan and Chad Daybell's former wife, Tammy Daybell. The case originates in Fremont County, but their trials will take place in Ada County, some 300 miles away, under a change of venue order. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Video recording or public livestreaming were not permitted in Thursday's hearing, which took place in St. Anthony, but East Idaho News sent a reporter to attend in person and agreed to share information with KTVB for this story.
Daybell, through his attorney John Prior, filed its latest motion to split the case based on new DNA evidence that has just recently been made available to all parties in the case. Prior argued Thursday that he will need at least 60 days to get testing done on a new DNA report, which was received in a hearing earlier this week. Prior called it "a piece of information that will have a profound impact on this case."
Daybell had requested the cases to be severed before, but until Thursday, Boyce denied such motions. When the prosecution argued that it had given the "bulk" of evidence to the defense on time, Boyce remarked that the defense is entitled to all the evidence, not just the bulk or majority.
A key difference in pretrial developments between Vallow's and Daybell's cases is Daybell waived his right to a speedy trial, while Vallow did not. Daybell's defense has repeatedly pushed for more time to prepare. Meanwhile, earlier this year, Vallow's defense filed a motion to dismiss her case for lack of a speedy trial -- a motion that was denied.
Jim Archibald, for Vallow's defense, said there were interviews from witnesses and the FBI recorded in 2020 that he had just received within the past few days.
“If my client waived her right to a speedy trial, I would also be asking for more time, but since she has held that right and held it close to her, I have to respect the constitutional autonomy that she has,” Archibald said.
In discussion with prosecutors about the new DNA evidence during Thursday's hearing, Judge Boyce said, "It appears to me as it’s been disclosed that there is something there -- it is DNA evidence, it came directly from a crime scene, and it’s indicative of unknown persons that could further be identified through additional testing...
“Isn’t the best remedy here to allow time for testing, so we don’t have to delve into speculation about what all of this evidence is?"
"Circumstances can arise, and the court has to consider whether or not, going forward with a joint trial, in this case, can impair the due process rights of the defendants,” Boyce said before splitting the trial and granting a continuance for Daybell.
Lori Vallow's trial is still scheduled to begin April 3. Boyce said the new trial date for Chad Daybell would be up to Ada County, and he believes the delay could be more than six months.
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