BOISE, Idaho — A coalition of news organizations asked an Idaho judge to reject a request to ban cameras from the courtroom in a high-profile triple murder case.
The request, led by EastIdahoNews.com and joined by 32 news organizations including The Associated Press, was filed Thursday in the criminal case of Lori Vallow Daybell, who is accused of conspiring with her new husband to kill her two children and her husband’s late wife.
Vallow Daybell’s attorneys asked 7th District Judge Steven Boyce late last month to ban cameras from the courtroom, contending that one news organization abused the privilege to videotape the proceedings when it repeatedly zoomed in on Vallow Daybell’s face during an Aug. 16 hearing. The criminal trial is still months away, but hearings are being held as prosecutors and defense attorneys hammer out the legal details of the proceedings.
“The zoom in on the defendant’s face was so close that the obvious intent of the filming was not to listen to the arguments of counsel, but to gauge every facial expression of the defendant or her lawyers,” Vallow Daybell’s defense attorneys Jim Archibald and John Thomas wrote.
The defense attorneys also suggested that a video camera could be used to zoom in on any notes written between themselves and Vallow Daybell, violating attorney-client confidentiality rules.
“Defense counsel would ask that since media has abused their privilege to photograph and record the proceedings in a fair and reasonable manner, that cameras be banned from the courtroom,” the attorneys wrote. Alternatively, they said that still photography could still be allowed, if the equipment lacked zoom features.
But Steven Wright, the attorney representing the news organizations, stressed that news organizations cover criminal justice proceedings on behalf of the general public. He wrote in court documents that Vallow Daybell’s attorneys’ claims are false and unwarranted, and noted that trained technical staffers monitor the hearing to ensure that no inappropriate information is captured.
“The public’s confidence in the criminal justice system grows when the courtroom is open to all, including those who cannot physically attend,” Wright said on Thursday. “We reject any claim that the media has failed to comply with the court’s orders balancing the rights of Ms. Daybell with the transparency necessary to serve the public interest.”
The strange criminal case has garnered international attention.
Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell in November 2019 after extended family members reported that the children were missing. During that period, police said the couple lied about the children’s whereabouts. Their bodies were found buried later on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.
Chad and Lori Daybell married just two weeks after his previous wife, Tammy Daybell, died unexpectedly. Tammy Daybell’s death was initially reported as due to natural causes, but investigators had her body exhumed after growing suspicious when Chad Daybell quickly remarried.
The couple was eventually charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection with the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan and Tammy Daybell. They have pleaded not guilty and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Prosecutors say the couple promoted unusual religious beliefs to further 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 god-like figure responsible for ushering in the apocalyptical end times. Chad Daybell wrote doomsday-focused fiction books loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also recorded podcasts about preparing for the apocalypse, and friends said he claimed to be able to receive visions from “beyond the veil.”
Friends of the couple told law enforcement investigators that the pair believed people could be taken over by dark spirits, and that Vallow Daybell referred to her children as “zombies,” which was a term they used to describe those who were possessed.
Vallow Daybell is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Arizona in connection with the death of her previous husband. Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who said it was self-defense. Cox later died of what police said was natural causes.
The Arizona legal proceedings are on hold while the Idaho case is underway and Vallow Daybell has not been scheduled to make a plea in the Arizona case.
Last month, Vallow Daybell’s attorneys asked the Idaho judge to send the two conspiracy charges back to a grand jury so that they could be reworked. John Thomas told the judge that the counts — which allege that the couple conspired to commit murder and grand theft against Vallow Daybell’s children — were confusing and awkwardly structured.
The defense attorneys also asked that the case be sent back so that a grand jury could decide whether the “aggravating factors” that qualify a case for the death penalty in Idaho are merited.
In rulings issued Wednesday, the judge denied both grand jury-related requests.
A hearing on the request to ban cameras is expected to be held next week.