Chad Daybell’s defense use Lori’s trial in fight to strike death penalty

Posted at 9:02 AM, November 10, 2023


FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho (Court TV) — In two motions filed on Thursday, Chad Daybell’s attorneys made it clear that their priority is making sure their client avoids the death penalty.

A profile view of a man sitting in court

Chad Daybell listens during his preliminary hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, on Monday, August 3, 2020. The preliminary hearing will help a judge decide if the charges against Chad Daybell will move forward in state court. Daybell, 52, is charged with concealing evidence by destroying or hiding the bodies of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan at his home. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool)

Chad Daybell is charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the death of his first wife, Tammy, as well as the two youngest children of his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell. Lori was convicted for her part in the murders in May and was sentenced to serve multiple life sentences without the chance of parole.

Chad’s attorney filed two separate motions on Thursday seeking to strike the death penalty in the case. The first seeks to strike the death penalty based on relative culpability. In the motion, Chad’s attorneys argue that because prosecutors argued in Lori’s trial that she was “the most culpable party to the alleged conspiracy” that led to three deaths, it would be inappropriate for Chad’s potential sentence to be more severe than hers.

“Even when two co-defendants are equally culpable, it is unconstitutional and unacceptable to subject one of them to the most extreme punishment available, while the other did not face that possibility.”

Lori had initially faced the death penalty, but Judge Steven Boyce, who presided over her case as well as her husband’s, ruled that the punishment would be removed as a possibility as a sanction for prosecutors who failed to submit evidence on time. While Chad waived his right to a speedy trial, Lori had not, which led Boyce to rule that any further delay in her trial would infringe on that right. Thus, Boyce said that he would remove the death penalty to protect her right to a fair trial.

LISTEN TO THE TRIAL: ID v. Lori Vallow Daybell (2023)

Chad’s attorneys sat in for the entirety of Lori’s trial and noted in their motion that prosecutors described her as the “common thread” between the murders and the conspiracy, alleging that she manipulated both Chad and her brother, Alex Cox, to do her bidding, and was the mastermind of the alleged conspiracy.

In a separate motion to strike the death penalty, Chad’s attorney frames the punishment as “arbitrary, capricious and disproportionate” in light of the same punishment being struck in Lori’s case. This motion recognized that Boyce decided to strike the death penalty in Lori’s case due to the discovery violation: “The Court did not extend the decision to Mr. Daybell, even though the State had committed the same discovery violations against Mr. Daybell since he had waived his speedy trial rights.”

Lori Vallow Daybell sits during her sentencing hearing.

Lori Vallow Daybell sits during her sentencing hearing at the Fremont County Courthouse in St. Anthony, Idaho, on Monday, July 31, 2023. Vallow Daybell has been sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday in the murders of her two youngest children and a romantic rival. The case has included bizarre claims that her son and daughter were zombies and that she was a goddess sent to usher in the Biblical apocalypse. (Tony Blakeslee/ via AP, Pool)

Chad’s attorneys argue, “Willingness to waive speedy trial rights cannot constitutionally be the deciding factor in who lives and who dies.” Chad’s attorneys said in the motion that had he not waived his right to a speedy trial, he would likely not be facing the death penalty. But when he waived his right to a speedy trial, he wasn’t advised of that potential outcome.

A third motion filed by Chad’s attorneys is a motion in limine seeking to force prosecutors to frame their case in Chad’s trial similarly to that in Lori’s trial — namely that they would have to argue that Lori was the “driving force” behind the murder conspiracy. Chad’s attorneys argue it would “violate principles of fundamental fairness, due process, and the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment to allow the State to present a different core theory in prosecuting Mr. Daybell.”

READ MORE: Chad Daybell: What’s happening and when is his trial?

Both the United States Supreme Court and lower courts have held that prosecutors cannot present inconsistent theories in presenting co-defendants’ cases and that doing so is a violation of due process, according to the motion.

“The core of the State’s case in Lori Vallow’s trial was that she was the driving force behind the alleged conspiracy leading to the deaths of Tylee Ryan, J.J. Vallow, and Tamara Daybell, that she used both Alex Cox and Chad Daybell through emotional and sexual manipulation, and that she remained in charge of her plan throughout. As such, it would plainly be inconsistent with the core of the State’s case to argue in Mr. Daybell’s trial that he was the person that planned or set in motion a conspiracy leading to these deaths. … It would likewise be inconsistent to argue for the State to argue that Chad’s allegations were taken of his own accord, free from manipulation and coercion.”

Chad’s attorneys have asked the judge to order the State to be limited to arguing that Chad followed Lori’s lead through the alleged conspiracy.

A hearing is scheduled for the motion to be heard on November 29. Chad’s trial is scheduled to begin in April 2024.