Judge considers barring cameras from Idaho mom’s murder case
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A judge told attorneys in a high-profile triple murder case that he’s worried broad news coverage could make it harder to seat a jury when the trial begins months from now.
“You’ve named off 35 major media organizations, which tells me that there is huge interest in putting all the information out to as many people as possible,” 7th District Judge Steven Boyce said Thursday. He told attorneys he would decide soon whether to change how — or if — cameras will be allowed in the courtroom during the criminal case of Lori Vallow Daybell and her new husband, Chad Daybell.
The couple is accused of conspiring together to kill Lori Vallow Daybell’s two youngest children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, as well as Chad Daybell’s late wife Tammy Daybell. The strange details of the case — including prosecutors’ allegations that the pair used unusual doomsday-focused religious beliefs as the justification for the killings — have garnered international attention.
Late last month, attorneys for Vallow Daybell asked the judge to ban cameras from the courtroom, contending one news organization abused the privilege to videotape the proceedings when it repeatedly zoomed in on Vallow Daybell’s face during an Aug. 16 hearing. The attorneys, Jim Archibald and John Thomas, claimed the cameras and microphones could potentially be used to overhear private conversations or to view private notes on the defense table.
A coalition of news organizations led by EastIdahoNews.com last week asked the court to reject that request, noting the coverage of the hearing was done well within the bounds of the judge’s previous order allowing cameras, and that no notes or private conversations were ever captured. The Associated Press was among the nearly three dozen news organizations that joined in the request.
During Thursday morning’s hearing, the attorney for the news organizations said barring cameras from the courtroom would not stop widespread public interest. It would only prevent people from seeing the most accurate depiction of the court proceedings, Steve Wright said.
“The reality is, pretrial publicity is a result of what the state has charged and the circumstances in which they base that,” Wright said.
The video cameras and microphones were set up in places that were preapproved by court personnel, Wright told the judge, and the news organization that served as the pool videographer had a technical staffer that monitored the broadcast closely to ensure that nothing inappropriate was captured.
“These are professionals who are among the best at what they do in difficult situations like this,” Wright said.
Wright noted that the judge has the ability to decide where and how any cameras and microphones are placed in the courtroom if he chooses to do so. Barring cameras entirely would be a “vast overreaction,” he said.
“That is like taking a sledgehammer to an issue where a scalpel is appropriate,” he said.
Vallow Daybell’s attorney, Archibald, told the judge the media coverage was “salacious” and pointed out that the judge had already decided to move the trial to a different county “because of the media’s incessant, nonstop exposure of this case.”
During the last hearing, a video camera showed a close-up of Vallow Daybell’s face for about 30 minutes, Archibald told the judge.
“She’s been in custody now for two and a half years,” Archibald said. “What’s the point — to mock her? To make fun of her? To humiliate her? Does it add any value to the public other than prejudice jurors?”
If the judge does not want to ban cameras entirely, they could be restricted to the jury box or the front row of the courtroom gallery, Archibald said.
“This case is tough enough without sensationalization … we certainly don’t need any more drama in this case,” he said.
The judge said he would consider the matter and issue a ruling on a later date.
Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating the pair in November 2019 after extended family members reported the children were missing. At the time, JJ Vallow was 7 years old and Tylee Ryan was just two weeks away from turning 17. Their bodies were found buried later on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho. Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell had married just two weeks after his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, died unexpectedly.
The couple was eventually charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection with the deaths of the children and Daybell’s late wife. They have pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors say the couple promoted unusual religious beliefs to further the alleged murder conspiracies. Lori Vallow Daybell’s former husband, who died while the two were estranged, said in divorce documents that Vallow Daybell believed she was a god-like figure responsible for ushering in the apocalyptical end times. Chad Daybell wrote doomsday-focused fiction books and recorded podcasts about preparing for the apocalypse.
Friends of the couple told law enforcement investigators the pair believed people could be taken over by dark spirits, and that Vallow Daybell referred to her children as “zombies,” which was a term they used to describe those who were possessed.
Vallow Daybell is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Arizona in connection with the death of her previous husband. Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who said it was self-defense. Cox later died of what police said was natural causes.
The Arizona legal proceedings are on hold while the Idaho case is underway and Vallow Daybell has not been scheduled to make a plea in the Arizona case.