By LAUREN SILVER Court TV
FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho (Court TV) — In a hearing just weeks before trial is scheduled to start, the judge overseeing the case against Lori Vallow Daybell ruled that the prosecution will not be allowed to seek the death penalty.
District Judge Steven Boyce said in a ruling March 21 that he was removing the possibility of the death penalty as a sanction after prosecutors submitted discovery evidence past the Feb. 27 deadline.
Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial is scheduled to begin April 3. On March 2, her case was severed from her fifth husband, Chad Daybell’s case. Lori and Chad Daybell are charged in the deaths of Chad’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, and two of Lori’s children, 7-year-old JJ Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, whose bodies were found on Chad’s property in June 2020.
Lori’s defense attorneys had asked for Judge Boyce to disallow the death penalty in the case, citing media saturation, discovery violations by the government, the defendant’s mental status and the inability of the state to effectively administer the death penalty.
In Tuesday’s oral order, Boyce refused to address the constitutionality of the death penalty and the way it is administered. Boyce focused on the alleged discovery violations made by the state in his ruling.
A previous ruling from the court had required all discovery for the case to be submitted prior to Feb. 27, but the state submitted discovery both on Feb. 27 and again in March. Among the evidence are more than 100 hours of recorded jail conversations between Lori and Chad, which was not submitted by the state until March 13.
“Upon weighing the arguments of counsel and considering the record, the court must determine here that the defense has, in fact, demonstrated a material prejudice resulting from late disclosures,” Boyce said in his ruling. “The prejudice has occurred because of the proximity of the trial, the volume of the discovery, and the inability of the defense to adequately view that discovery before trial begins…Thus considering everything the court is required to fashion a remedy that honors the rights of the parties — a fundamental right to a fair trial and the right of the state to bring to trial those who are accused of the crime. In balancing these rights, the court concludes here that as an appropriate discovery sanction, the state will be precluded from seeking the death penalty at trial.”
Boyce emphasized in his ruling that the sanction was not imposed as a penalty to the state, but rather to protect the right of the defendant to a fair trial.
While the state had argued for the trial to be delayed to allow the defense further time to review the discovery, Lori Vallow Daybell has not waived her right to a speedy trial. Boyce said any further delay to the trial, because of actions on the part of the state, would infringe on that right.
Boyce is due to rule on a motion by the defense to compel the prosecution to turn over all statements made by Chad Daybell, a motion in limine to exclude the evidence disclosed after Feb. 27 and a motion on the constitutionality of the death penalty. He said he would issue a written ruling in the next two days.
Lori Vallow Daybell has pleaded not guilty to charges including multiple counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Court TV will provide live coverage of Idaho v. Lori Vallow Daybell, starting April 3, 2023. Catch up on the latest news and trial updates here: Doomday Cult Case.
No trial date has been set for Chad Daybell.