The triple murder trial of “doomsday cult” mom Lori Vallow, 49, will not have the highest stakes possible in the U.S. legal system. The judge overseeing the case just took the death penalty off the table.
During a Tuesday morning hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce agreed to a defense request to exclude death as a potential punishment should Vallow be convicted, according to East Idaho News reporter Rett Nelson.
Vallow and her fifth and current husband, Chad Daybell, 54, are each accused of murder over the 2019 deaths of her children: Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17. The boy and girl disappeared on different dates in September of that year. Vallow was initially arrested in Hawaii in February 2020 on charges of child desertion. The two defendants were eventually indicted for the murder of Vallow’s children and Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, 49, in May 2021.
In a recent ruling, Boyce severed Vallow’s trial from her husband’s – granting Daybells’ attorneys long-lodged request for separate trials. The exclusion of the death penalty will only apply to Vallow’s trial.
Vallow’s attorneys, John Thomas and Jim Archibald, have been laying the groundwork for such an exclusion for some time.
“We don’t believe the state is going to be able to prove Lori was a major contributor to the crime,” Thomas told the judge at a January hearing. “We don’t believe Lori actually participated in any of these events or that she even knew about them. She didn’t anticipate them happening and certainly was not a participant.”
More Law&Crime coverage: ‘We Don’t Believe Lori Actually Participated’: Defense Attorneys for ‘Doomsday Cult’ Mom Aim to Avoid Potential Death Penalty in Double Child Murder Case
Earlier this month, the defense filed a motion to dismiss the death penalty, reiterating and formalizing their longstanding request to exclude the death penalty if their client is convicted on her numerous murder and conspiracy charges related to the three slayings.
Archibald, in a hearing on March 16, told the judge that numerous errors made by the state supported the request.
“Media saturation, multiple violations by the government, the government’s knowledge of my client’s mental health and the practical standpoint that Idaho has been trying to kill people on death row and hasn’t been able to do it because the Idaho Department of Correction can’t get chemicals to kill people,” the attorney argued.
Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake pushed back on that line of argument but Boyce sided with the defense.
The court granted the motion to remove the death penalty “to ensure the rights of the defendant to a fair trial are protected,” according to East Idaho News.
Taking the prospect of capital punishment out of Vallow’s upcoming trial means that jury selection will be much shorter, because “death-qualified” juries require a separate and more strenuous series of questions during jury selection in order to ensure that all jurors are not strictly opposed to the death penalty but are also not of the opinion that all capital murder cases require the state to take another life.
The trial itself will also be considerably shorter because there will not be a sentencing phase, East Idaho News Director Nate Eaton reported. Instead, Boyce will sentence Vallow if she is found guilty.
Vallow’s trial is slated to begin on April 3.
More Law&Crime coverage: Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell appear in court as defense and prosecutors signal intent to argue about religion during triple murder trial
Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, admittedly shot and killed Vallow’s previous husband, Charles Vallow, in July 2019 and claimed self-defense. Cox also allegedly tried to kill Tammy Daybell days before her ex allegedly killed her. Vallow is also charged with conspiracy in Arizona over her ex-husband’s death.
Police in Idaho allege that Vallow and her husband believed that her fourth husband needed to die to fulfill a religious prophecy. A court filing in a child custody case peripherally related to the alleged cult killings claims Vallow eventually came to believe her two children “had been possessed by a demon or another dark entity” and were subsequently turned into “zombies.”
Daybell is the author of various novels related to end-times theology. He and his wife met in 2018 after appearing on a podcast to discuss different ways the world might end in eschatological terms.
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