BOISE, Idaho — Lawyers for a mother accused of conspiring to murder her children in Idaho and steal their Social Security benefits asked a judge on Tuesday to return the case to a grand jury because they say the charges are confusing.
Lori Vallow Daybell and her husband Chad Daybell have pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft 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.
At 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 received because her father had died. The other conspiracy charge concerns the same charges, but related to the death of her son.
Under the plan proposed by Vallow Daybell’s lawyers, the case would be returned to the grand jury so the charges could be amended.
“The conspiracy to commit murder and the conspiracy to commit grand theft are two separate conspiracies,” attorney John Thomas said. “We believe it would be confusing for a jury to figure out which elements have been met, when the elements have been met and to what extent the elements have been met.”
Otherwise, Thomas said, the case will be “fundamentally unfair.”
“I’m not saying the jury isn’t sophisticated enough to figure that out, but I’ve been a lawyer for 20 years and this particular charge stunned me,” he said.
Prosecutor Rob Wood told the court that the conspiracy charges are not confusing at all — they simply describe a “criminal agreement.”
“One was to kill Tylee Ryan and steal the Social Security money allotted to her, and one was to kill JJ Vallow and steal and collect the Social Security funds assigned to him,” Wood said. “We believe the jury will find that there was an agreement, that they agreed to commit these two crimes.”
Chad Daybell was not present at the hearing on Tuesday. During the hour-long procedure, Vallow Daybell frowned most of the time, but smiled at other times. At times she seemed to laugh or mock the prosecutor’s legal arguments.
Judge Steven Boyce said he would consider the arguments and make a decision later.
Idaho law enforcement began investigating the Daybells in November 2019 after family members reported the children were missing. At the time, police said the couple lied about the whereabouts of the children. Their bodies were later buried on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.
Chad and Lori Daybell got 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 she became 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 dead by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who claimed it was self-defense. Cox later died of what police said were natural causes.
Arizona legal proceedings have been suspended while the Idaho case is ongoing and Vallow Daybell is not scheduled to make a plea in the Arizona case.
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