BOISE, Idaho — 1,800 people were summoned to the Ada County Courthouse this past Monday and Tuesday to fulfill their duty as Idahoans.
They're part of the massive jury pool for the trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, which is scheduled to start Monday, April 3, with jury selection.
Vallow is charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft related to the deaths of her two kids, Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan, and her husband's late wife, Tammy Daybell, in eastern Idaho. Her husband Chad Daybell is also charged in the murders and will be tried separately in Ada County at a date still to be determined. Prosecutors had intended to put them on trial together, but the court earlier in March granted a motion to sever the case — split the trial — in part because of the timing of discovery involving some DNA evidence. Also, Lori Vallow has chosen to assert her right to a speedy trial, while Chad Daybell has waived it.
Fremont County Judge Steven Boyce — who is still overseeing the case even though the venue has changed to the Ada County Courthouse — gave those 1,800 jurors instructions and had them fill out a 20-page questionnaire.
Ada County Administrative District Judge Steve Hippler said Judge Boyce, prosecutors and Vallow's defense are going over those answers this week and will whittle down the number of jurors.
Beginning Monday, the remaining jurors will be called in groups, and lawyers will individually question them. The attorneys on the case ultimately decide who will be chosen, according to a former Ada County Prosecutor. Hippler said it's possible this takes all of next week, April 3-7.
Eventually, they'll get to a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates — which is a lot of alternates. Hippler and retired Ada County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Jean Fisher said it's been a long time since Ada County has had such a complex case with such intense international media attention. That media interest, of course, impacts the jury pool.
"The media coverage has been so immersive that it is necessary to draw that many people in for two reasons: one, to make sure they haven't been influenced by that and can be a fair juror, you know, we owe that to both the defendant and the state to have a fair trial. And, two, we're asking people to give up their daily lives in a lot of ways for eight weeks, hopefully; 10 weeks, I hope not... and that's a long time to be away from work or be away from your family during the day," Hippler said. "The coverage out there will be significant and widespread, but I also have faith in the people of Ada County to take something like this very seriously and follow the judge's instructions."
Fisher said the judge will instruct jurors multiple times regarding their duty to stay off social media, not consume any media around the case, and not discuss the case.
"With 1,800 jurors, they're getting all these questionnaires hitting all major themes that both sides are concerned about to get a fair and impartial jury: the length of the case, publicity of the case, emotional toll of the case because these are children. The manner in which they died is going to be difficult and emotional, and then you have the mental health aspect. There are so many different themes that need to be teased out," Fisher said.
Fisher also said religion will have to be addressed with jurors in the questionnaire and during the trial since it's a major factor in Vallow's case.
Fisher said she thinks finding a fair and impartial jury will be difficult. Attorneys will have to use a certain amount of sophistication combined with intuition and, ultimately, it comes down to using their gut, she says.
Judge Hippler said Ada County courts paused jury trials this week because of all the jurors who were called to the courthouse. He, personally, won't be trying cases during the trial because he needs to be available for anything Judge Boyce and his staff need. Otherwise, he said, the court will be operating pretty normally after jury selection.
There will be more intense security inside and outside the courthouse. Because it's their case, Madison and Fremont counties sent sheriff's deputies to the courthouse — in addition to other local law enforcement. There will be check-in stations on the fourth floor of the courthouse, where the trial will take place, to make sure no one is there who shouldn't be.
Hippler said, as they've been doing for months, they'll continue to manage moving parts.
"It's really a collaboration with the other counties that are involved from Southeast Idaho and with our team and it's been a process of conducting, choreographing how this will go," Hippler told KTVB. "We're managing it by working really well together as a team. The number of people and agencies involved in coordinating all this is - it's not just the courts; it's the Marshals Service, it's the sheriff's office, it's Boise city police who's helping us with parking and other issues. It's the clerk's office, it's the jury commissioner's office, it's the trial court administrator's office. And so it's a whole army of people and agencies that are helping put this together."
Hippler said this trial does have the potential to impact already-tight courtroom space and require the trial court administrator to juggle where and when other trials occur.
The biggest impact will be on parking, which is already a headache at the courthouse. The volume of media presence will contribute to limited parking. Hippler warns anyone doing business down at the courthouse to expect parking to be "chaotic."
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