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Chad Daybell’s attorney has requested a change of venue, arguing that the intense media attention around the case makes it impossible for the religious author to get a fair trial in Fremont County, Idaho.
Daybell and Lori Vallow are each facing first-degree murder charges in the deaths of Vallow’s children, Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, after the bodies of both children were found buried on Daybell’s property last year.
Daybell is also facing first degree murder charges in Idaho for the death of his first wife, Tammy, who died at the couple’s home in October of 2019. Vallow is also facing charges of conspiracy to commit murder in Arizona for the death of her fourth husband, Charles Vallow.
Daybell’s attorney John Prior called the media attention surrounding the case “outrageous” during a virtual hearing Tuesday and requested the trial be moved from rural Fremont County to a portion of the state with a higher population to increase the chance of being able to find an impartial jury, according to local station KSL.
He suggested the trial be moved to Boise, but also offered Twin Falls and Pocatello as alternate possibilities.
“The reality is what we need to do is get this out of an area—that is a rural community that has made up their mind,” he said, according to East Idaho News. “If we were to move the case, Boise would be the best place to try to find jurors.”
He added that it “just doesn’t make sense” to keep the trial in Fremont County, where he said potential jurors have been bombarded with signs around town advocating for “justice for JJ and Tylee,” ribbons adorning court houses and public vigils to honor the slain children.
Prior said he believed the case had garnered more media attention than any other in recent history, with the possible exception of George Floyd’s death.
Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood and Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake have agreed to a “partial change of venue” but argued that rather than moving the entire trial to another part of the state, jurors from another county should be brought in to Fremont County and sequestered during the trial, according to court documents obtained by Oxygen.com.
“The cost to Fremont and Madison to fund [a] full trial in another part of the State of Idaho would be extensive: witness costs increase, personnel costs increase for the Court and Counties,” they wrote in the court filing. “Court personnel including the Judge, potentially the court reporter, potentially clerk for the Court, and any necessary personnel that live in or near the Seventh Judicial District may have increased burdens in traveling and remaining in another county for the duration of trial.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Wood agreed that there had been significant media coverage of the case but argued that the defense team would need to provide evidence suggesting that the coverage had prejudiced a jury, either by calling witnesses or submitting affidavits.
“The case law is clear that press coverage itself does not create a presumption of prejudice,” he said, according to KSL. “They’re not fortunate facts, they’re not good facts, they’re not fun, they’re disturbing, but accurate representation in the media, absent of showing the prejudice, it should be enough.”
District Judge Steven Boyce opted not to consider a survey Prior tried to submit that assessed residents’ views of the case from four different counties.
The survey—which was conducted by Ironwood Insights, an Arizona marketing research firm— found that 82.4% of the 177 people surveyed by phone believed the couple was guilty. Only one person said they thought Daybell and Vallow were innocent.
However, the survey only included responses from 18 people living in Fremont County and Boyce believed that was not enough to conclude that it accurately reflected the views of those living in the county.
Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries and Rexburg Police Chief Shane Turman each testified during the hearing about the possible costs of relocating the trial.
According to Humphries, there could be significant costs to having Fremont County deputies and detectives travel to testify, although it's not possible to estimate the costs without knowing where the trial could be held and how long it might go on.
During the questioning, Prior asked Humphries about a June 11, 2020 Facebook post he had shared that included photos from a memorial for JJ and Tylee.
Prior believed the post should preclude Humphries from making any decisions in Daybell’s trial. Humphries responded, however, that he already doesn’t make choices in the proceedings, according to East Idaho News.
Boyce didn’t issue any rulings on the issue and said he planned to consider the evidence before determining where the trial would take place.
Daybell has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. The case against Vallow has been put on hold after a judge determined she was mentally unfit to stand trial and sent her to psychiatric facility for treatment.
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