ST. ANTHONY — District Judge Steven Boyce granted a motion to change venue in Chad Daybell’s murder case Friday.
The issue of where the trial should be held has been hotly debated by attorneys as the case against Chad Daybell and his wife Lori Vallow for the reported murder of Vallow’s children has drawn intense media attention from around the world.
Daybell and Vallow became the center of public attention after law enforcement began investigating in November 2019 after Kay Woodcock, the sister of Vallow’s deceased ex-husband, contacted police. Woodcock, who also was the biological grandmother to Vallow’s adopted son, told police she had not heard from her grandson, 7-year-old Joshua “J.J.” Vallow, or his sister, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, for an extended period of time.
Daybell and Vallow fled to Hawaii after reportedly giving police false information about the children’s whereabouts. Lori Vallow was arrested in February 2020 and extradited back to Idaho.
In June 2020 the bodies of the children were found buried on Daybell’s property. He was arrested and the couple were both charged with destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. In May they were both charged with several felonies including two counts each of first-degree murder for the children. Daybell was charged with one count for the death of his late wife, Tammy Daybell, while Vallow was charged with conspiracy to commit first degree murder.
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Boyce noted that the case has been covered extensively by local media before charges were filed.
“(T)he pretrial publicity surrounding this case has been lengthy, continuous and pervasive in the Seventh Judicial District’s local media market,” Boyce wrote in his decision. “This is evidenced by the quantity of stories and nearly continuous nature of the coverage of this and co-defendant’s cases.”
Boyce also noted that the case has drawn national media attention, from NBC, the Oxygen Network, and the Dr. Oz. show.
At one point Boyce singled out East Idaho News for “inflammatory” coverage, citing an article from June 9 titled “’He’s a liar. He’s a liar.’ Grandmother, brother react to Daybell’s not guilty plea.”
“The media has sought to attach prejudicial nicknames to the co-defendants in sensationalizing their coverage,” Boyce said.
The judge noted that the state argued publicity alone may not be justification for a change of venue. Boyce determined that several potential jurors were likely exposed to the media coverage, and may be influenced to have beliefs on the case before hearing the evidence.
Boyce said it would not be sufficient to move the case to another county in the Seventh Judicial District, which has likely seen the same media coverage. He therefore ruled out transferring another jury to Fremont County for the trial.
“(T)he court concludes that Ada County would provide the best opportunity to conduct the trial in this case,” Boyce wrote. He cited the county’s large population and comparisons of the cost of transporting and housing a jury compared to doing the same for the parties in the case.
A date for the trial has not been set.
The prosecution has said it intends to seek the death penalty against Daybell. Vallow’s case has been placed on hold over concerns for her mental ability to contribute to her own defense.
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