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Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell appear in court as defense and prosecutors signal intent to argue about religion during triple murder trial

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow

Chad Daybell, on the left, and Lori Vallow Daybell, on the right, are set to stand trial on triple murder charges in April 2023. Images via John Roark, the Post-Register pool and Madison County Sheriff’s Office.

Lori Vallow Daybell, 49, a doomsday-cult-connected mother of two dead children, and her current husband, Chad Daybell, 54, appeared in Fremont County court on Thursday to deal with various pretrial motions related to their shared triple murder charges. During the hearing, each side touched upon religion in the cult-connected case.

Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce first heard brief arguments from the state and the defense regarding a previous request from Vallow’s attorneys to have the charges against their client dismissed based on an alleged violation of her right to a speedy trial, according to a courtroom report by East Idaho News Director Nate Eaton.

“Here we are with a trial set that the defense knows is outside the time of speedy trial, the state knows is outside the time of speedy trial, so what’s the remedy?” defense attorney Jim Archibald asked out loud, before answering his own question. “The Idaho legislature says the remedy is for the indictment to be dismissed. The speedy trial obligation is on the prosecution, not the judge, not the defendant, not the defense lawyers. The obligation to respect a speedy trial right is on the government, the prosecution.”

In late January, Archibald and fellow defense attorney John Thomas filed a motion arguing that state law and the U.S. Constitution had been violated by the prosecution because their client had already spent over 1,169 days in pre-trial detention without her trial starting.

Prosecuting attorney Tawnya Rawlings took issue with the defense’s argument on Thursday, Eaton reported in a lengthy Twitter thread.

“There was a 44-day delay from the defense team that resulted in vacating the January trial date,” she said – referring to a defense-requested stay of proceedings based on Vallow’s mental competency to stand trial. That stay was lifted in mid-November of last year.

The defense previously argued that Vallow’s speedy trial right had been “violated” even accounting for those 44 days.

On Thursday, the prosecutor said the court itself had already issued an order finding “good cause” to maintain delays in the case. Ultimately, Boyce said he would dispense with the request soon in a written order as the court moved on to other issues, Eaton reported.

Boyce next granted a defense motion for preselection instructions to be given to potential jurors. Both sides will confer and offer input on what those instructions will be. The judge then denied a state motion to compel the defense’s list of potential witnesses – after defense attorneys promised they would give their working list to the state.

Both defendants entered the courtroom independently of one another on Thursday – the wife first; husband second. Each were shackled at their ankles, an apparent first for Vallow, Eaton reported.

Vallow’s defense attorneys said they hope to ask potential jurors during voir dire about religion, mental illness, and drug use, according to Eaton. The prosecution, in turn, said they would “object to defense attorneys asking jurors their religious affiliation and what congregation they go to.”

Prosecutors, however, said they would deal with the issue of religion during the trial, saying they had a witness lined up who would testify about hyper-religiosity “versus” using religion “as an excuse or reason to commit a crime,” according to Eaton.

Vallow and Daybell are accused of murder in the 2019 deaths of Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 17. The children disappeared on different dates in September of that year. Vallow was originally arrested in Hawaii in February 2020 on charges of child desertion. She and her husband were indicted for the murder of Vallow’s children and Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, 49, in May 2021.

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.

The accused husband has unsuccessfully, so far, filed motions to have his case severed and tried separately from his wife’s. A hearing on that issue was continued until Feb. 23, so both parties could further prepare and filed additional briefs on the matter, Eaton reported.

Their shared trial is currently slated to begin on April 3.

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