The criminal cases against Idaho woman Lori Norene Vallow, 47, (aka Lori Daybell) and her fifth husband Chad Guy Daybell, 52, did not need more complications, and yet here we are. Attorneys for both defendants are trying to push out prosecutor Rob Wood. They say there are recordings that shows him trying to bully witnesses, but Wood asserts the recordings are “incomplete and/or possibly edited.” This hearing on a motion to disqualify him is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST/9 a.m. MST.
The defendants are accused of hiding the deaths of Vallow’s children Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17. Their defense accuses Wood of going over the line in interviewing Vallow’s sister, and the widow of Lori’s brother Alex Cox.
“Said motion is based upon a recently received audio recording between Mr. Robert Wood and the material witness, Summer Shiflet (biological sister of said Defendant) that occurred in October 2020,” Vallow attorney Mark Means wrote in a motion obtained by Law&Crime. “The recording clearly illustrates Mr. Wood’s attempt to coerce, unduly influence, coach, and or intimidate a said material witness to this case. In addition, an audio recording of Mr. Wood interviewing another material witness, Zulema Pastenes [Cox’s widow], also at or around the same time (October 2020) discussing matters that support the state’s position of the case, etc.”
It’s not unusual for prosecutors or defense attorneys to speak to witnesses, but there are limits. Bob Bianchi–a defense lawyer, Law&Crime host, and former top prosecutor in Morris County, New Jersey–defined the context in a December episode of Law&Crime Report.
“There is nothing wrong at all with a lawyer, whether it be a prosecutor or defense attorney, interviewing witnesses,” he said. “In fact, the courts have found a failure of attorneys to interview witnesses could actually constitute malpractice, but what is typically done, is it’s done in the presence of an investigator so that there can’t be a claim that the prosecutor, in this case, is now a witness.”
The state denies wrongdoing. In a motion obtained by Law&Crime, they maintained that Wood only met with Shiflet and Pastenes after their attorney Garrett Smith reached out. He spoke to them in the presence of this lawyer, and that the separate meetings with both women took place at the police department in Chandler, Arizona, according to this version of events. The prosecution insisted the meetings were introductory, not investigative, and that Wood did not sit in on their meetings with law enforcement.
In an affidavit obtained by Law&Crime, Wood maintained that Smith did not raise objections during his meetings with the women. He said he had no knowledge of the recordings in question, and that these recordings did not feature the entire conversations. Wood asserted these recordings seemed to be “incomplete and/or possibly edited.” He said he believed that Smith recorded these conversations, basing his reasoning on part of the recording with Pastenes appearing to have taken place outside of her presence. He said he did not know if Shiflet and Pastenes agreed to the recordings or of their disclosure.
Whatever happens with this hearing, it is just another step in an already winding case. The backstory behind all this is complicated and convoluted. Vallow believed her children were “zombies,” according to court filings in a niece’s divorce. By this, it is meant the defendant allegedly thought their original souls were in limbo and their bodies were possessed. JJ and Tylee were last seen on separate dates in September 2019, but police said they only learned about the disappearances the following month when JJ’s grandmother called in for a welfare check. Vallow and Daybell lied to investigators and fled town amid the investigation. Police said they found the kids’ bodies in Daybell’s property in June 2020, with investigators claiming they were able to trace Alex Cox’s phone at both gravesites on dates very shortly after the children respectively went missing.
On top of this, Cox shot and killed his sister’s fourth husband Charles Vallow in July 2019, back when the family lived in Arizona. He maintained self-defense, but he died the following December of what medical examiners called a blood clot. Charles Vallow told police in January 2019 that his wife threatened to kill him.
Also, Daybell’s wife Tammy Daybell passed away in her sleep October 2019–between the time that the children went missing and the time that Chad Daybell married Vallow in Hawaii. Authorities are taking another look at her death. The passings of both she and Charles Vallow have raised eyebrows, but no charges have been filed in these deaths.
[Screengrab via CBS This Morning]
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