Judge bans cameras from Idaho mom’s triple murder case

BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho judge has banned cameras from the courtroom in the high-profile triple murder case of a mother and her new husband, saying he feared the images could prevent a fair trial.

Seventh Circuit Judge Steven Boyce rendered the ruling Friday, saying news organizations can no longer capture still images or video in the courtroom of Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell’s criminal case. The couple are accused of conspiring to kill Lori Vallow Daybell’s two youngest children and Chad Daybell’s late ex-wife, and the strange details of the case have garnered worldwide attention.

Both Vallow Daybell and Daybell have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a potential death penalty.

Late last month, Vallow Daybell’s attorneys asked the judge to ban cameras from the courtroom. They alleged that a news organization abused the privilege by repeatedly zooming in on Vallow Daybell’s face during an Aug. 16 hearing. Attorneys Jim Archibald and John Thomas also claimed that the cameras and microphones could potentially be used to eavesdrop on private conversations or to display private notes on the defense table, although they did not suggest the equipment had ever actually been used in this way.

A coalition of more than 30 news organizations, including The Associated Press, asked the judge to deny the defense attorneys’ motion.

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Steve Wright, the attorney for the EastIdahoNews.com-led News Coalition, told the judge that banning cameras would not stop widespread public interest in the case but would prevent people from seeing the most accurate account of the proceedings. The news organizations also noted that the reporting was done to inform the public, most of whom cannot attend in person.

Wright told the judge that banning cameras outright would be a “major overreaction,” but acknowledged that the judge had power to limit visual coverage at his or her discretion.

The prosecutor in the case, meanwhile, sided with the defense and said the cameras should be banned. Prosecutor Rob Wood said the coverage could make it harder for the court to find an impartial jury when the case goes to court next year.

In his decision, Boyce said there was no indication the news organizations had ever violated court orders allowing cameras in the courtroom.

“The presence of media during the hearings did not disrupt these proceedings in any way, and media attendance was respectful and professional,” Boyce wrote in the ruling. Nevertheless, according to the judge, the concerns of the defense lawyers are “founded”.

Boyce said he had to proactively avoid looking at coverage of the case because it was routinely part of local and sometimes national news. He noted that he has already decided to move the statewide trial to Ada County in hopes of improving the chances of finding an impartial jury.

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He said the camera ban would remain in place after the jury has selected the trial — although jurors are always cautioned not to discuss or consume coverage of the case they are working on. Visual reporting could also spoil potential witnesses and stress the attorneys involved in the case, he said, “knowing that every phrase, utterance and occurrence beyond their control will be recorded and disseminated forever.”

That pressure could affect the “fair administration of justice,” Boyce said.

Idaho law enforcement officials began investigating Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell in November 2019 after family members reported that their two youngest children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, were missing. At the time, JJ Vallow was 7 years old and Tylee Ryan was approaching her 17th birthday.

Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after the unexpected death of his former wife, Tammy Daybell. The children’s bodies were later found buried on Chad Daybell’s property in rural eastern Idaho.

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The couple were 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 advance 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 godlike figure responsible for ushering in the apocalyptic end times. Chad Daybell wrote doomsday non-fiction and recorded podcasts about preparing for the apocalypse.

Friends of the couple told law enforcement investigators that the couple believed people could be taken over by dark spirits and that Vallow Daybell referred to their children as “zombies,” which was a term they used to describe those who were possessed.

Vallow Daybell is also facing charges of conspiracy to murder in Arizona in connection with the death of her former husband. Charles Vallow was shot by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who said it was self-defense. Cox later died of natural causes, police said.

The Arizona court case is stayed while the Idaho case is pending, and Vallow Daybell is not scheduled to file a lawsuit in the Arizona case.

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