BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Attorneys for a mother charged with conspiring to kill her children in Idaho and to steal their social security benefits asked a judge on Tuesday to send the case back to a grand jury because they say the indictment is confusing.
Lori Vallow Daybell and her husband Chad Daybell have pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges in connection with the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. They could face the death penalty if convicted.
During a hearing in the eastern Idaho town of St. Anthony, Vallow Daybell’s attorneys said the conspiracy charges were oddly constructed and likely to confuse a jury.
One of the conspiracy charges is because prosecutors say the couple planned to kill Vallow Daybell's daughter and steal the social security benefits the child was receiving because her father had died. The other conspiracy charge involves the same allegations, but in connection with her son's death.
Under the plan proposed by Vallow Daybell's defense attorneys, the case would be returned to the grand jury so the charges could be tweaked.
“The conspiracy to commit murder and the conspiracy to commit grand theft are two separate conspiracies,” defense attorney John Thomas said. “We believe it would be confusing to a jury to be able to figure out what elements were met, when the elements were met and to what extent the elements were met.”
Otherwise, Thomas said, the case will be “fundamentally unfair.”
“I'm not saying that the jury isn't sophisticated enough to sort through that, but I've been practicing law for 20 years and this particular charge baffled me,” he said.
Prosecuting attorney Rob Wood told the court that the conspiracy charges aren't confusing at all — they simply detail a “criminal agreement.”
“One was to murder Tylee Ryan and to steal the social security money that was allotted to her, and one was to kill JJ Vallow and steal and collect the social security funds that were allotted to him," Wood said. “We believe the jury will find that there was this agreement, that they agreed to commit these two crimes.”
Chad Daybell did not attend Tuesday’s hearing. During the hour-long proceeding, Vallow Daybell frowned much of the time but smiled at other moments. Occasionally she appeared to laugh or scoff at the legal arguments made by the prosecutor.
Judge Steven Boyce said he would consider the arguments and make a decision later.
Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating the Daybells 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.
Lori 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 claimed 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.