BOISE, Idaho (ABC4) — Lori Vallow Daybell’s murder trial began on Monday, jury selection started, and opening arguments are set for April 10.
Daybell was charged with the alleged murder of her two children, JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan. She was also charged with conspiring with her husband, Chad Daybell, to murder his first wife, Tammy.
The trial, which started Monday, April 3, started with jury selection. Because Daybell’s case has been nationally televised, the jurors must be as unbiased as possible, in order to give Daybell a fair trial. Chad Daybell will not be able to watch what happens during the trial, however, his attorney John Prior, attended most of the jury selection Monday and Tuesday.
The Judge, Steven Boyce, set specific guidelines for the murder trial, including rules for the media and public to watch. According to East Idaho News, approximately 40 members of the media and public watched the proceedings in an overflow room at the Ada County Courthouse, and a few more watched a live broadcast at the Madison County Courthouse.
Included in Boyce’s guidelines, was a ban on cameras in the courtroom. Because of this ban, East Idaho News, and other media organizations, hired a sketch artist to provide images throughout the trial.
Day One: Jury Selection Begins
On Monday, April 3, the jury selection began for Daybell’s trial. Twelve jurors and six alternates will be picked from a pool of 42 nonbias jurors. Jurors decide whether Daybell is guilty or not, based on the evidence they receive from the trial.
Each day, 45 people, separated into three groups of 15, will be questioned by District Judge Steven Boyce, Daybell’s defense attorneys, and the prosecutors (representing the State of Idaho), both as a group and individually.
Boyce explained on Monday that potential jurors could be dismissed for cause and that the prosecution and defense are allowed to dismiss a certain number of potential jurors without cause. They each get to eliminate 12 people in the pool. Boyce told potential jurors the trial could last up to 8 weeks.
He then asked the potential jurors if serving on a jury would create financial, personal, or other hardship. After the dismissal of several jurors due to hardship, the remaining were asked the following question, “Is there anyone in the jury pool who knew nothing about this case until you came in last week with your questionnaires?” Many raised their hands.
Boyce began more questioning of the potential jury, he asked if anyone was related to Daybell, involved in any civil cases with her, or if they had formed any opinions about whether Daybell is guilty or not guilty, and nobody raised their hand.
Madison County Prosecuting Attorney, Rob Wood, questioned the potential jurors next. He asked, “Can everybody in this room commit to following the law as it’s given to you by the judge rather than relying on what you think the law should be?” And, “Even if you don’t like the law as given, will you all still commit to following the law?” The jurors raised their hands.
Wood then explained that a lot of things in the media, and news coverage “aren’t true,” and that some of the information won’t be presented in the trial, as they are irrelevant to the case. He asked the jurors to set aside everything they’ve heard, and only rely on what is heard in the courtroom.
He told the potential jurors, “There will be some evidence in this case that I would describe as ’emotionally charged.'” He told them it wouldn’t be easy to look at, and asked if anyone would have an issue with it, or with autopsy images of children. One potential juror raised her hand and said she did not know this case involved children, and said she has two elementary school-age kids.
Wood said there would be other types of evidence, and asked if she would be able to rely on her reason and common sense with all the evidence even though some may be ’emotionally charged.’ The potential juror said she could do that.
A second prosecuting attorney, Rachel Smith from Missouri, spoke with the potential jurors. She said, “Each of those crimes read to you that Mrs. Vallow Daybell has been accused of has specific definitions. The judge is going to give you those definitions.”
Smith said the Court would give them instructions, which she referred to as “recipes,” and compared them to chocolate chip cookie ingredients. She said that although some jurors may think the Court’s instructions aren’t a good “recipe” — they still must follow them.
Smith went on to remind jurors of the importance of relying on evidence and information in the courtroom, and not from the news or anything else outside. She then explained what conspiracy means, and explains that witnesses’ backgrounds and religious beliefs may be different than theirs. She asked the jurors if that would be an issue, and they said no.
During Smith’s questioning, she asked if anyone watches CSI, and one juror said she was a fan. Smith asked the juror if she would have a problem with an expert testifying a murder occurred, but unable to determine exactly how they died, the potential juror said no.
Daybell’s attorney, Jim Archibald, then questioned the potential jurors. He questioned several potential jurors about their jobs, and if they would affect their ability to participate in the jury. He also asked one stay-at-home mom if she would like to leave, and she said yes, he requested dismissal, but Boyce declined the request.
The rest of the potential jurors were then questioned individually, and several more jurors were excused. The court excused the first group, took a 30-minute break for lunch, and began questioning the second group.
The Judge, attorneys, and defense questioned the second group, and it was described as generally the same, by East Idaho News. Prosecuting attorney, Lindsey Blake, stressed the importance of following instructions from the court even if they disagree, and the jurors in the second group were questioned individually.
The third group was then brought in for questioning, with one juror absent. Several more were released due to conflicts. They were questioned by Boyce, the prosecuting attorneys, and the defense both as a group and individually.
Out of the three groups, and 45 people questioned, only 17 remained in the jury pool at the end of the day. Opening arguments will begin once a jury is picked, which could take several days and is currently set for Monday, April 10.
Day Two: Jury Selection Continues
Jury selection continues on Day two, Tuesday, April 4, at the Ada County Courthouse. No family members of Lori, Chad, Tammy, JJ, or Tylee have been present yet in the trial.
Some of JJ and Tylee’s relatives, Kay Woodcock, Summer Shiflet, and Colby Ryan, were not approved to attend Daybell’s trial yet. They were approved in a notice given on April 6.
Following the same procedure as Monday, three groups of 15 potential jurors, 45 people in total, will be questioned by prosecuting attorneys, Daybell’s attorneys, and Judge Boyce. The potential jurors will then be questioned individually.
Boyce asked the potential jurors if serving on a jury would create financial, personal, or other hardship. After several jurors are dismissed due to hardship, nine potential jurors remain from the first group Tuesday.
The nine remaining jurors were asked if they are related to Daybell or any of the attorneys, and if they are involved in any civil suits against Daybell, all jurors said no.
Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake questioned the group, and all jurors agreed that they could commit to following instructions given by the judge. Blake also asked if they were all comfortable being “brutally honest,” and they said yes.
Blake told the potential jurors that this is a case dealing with the murder of two children, and the murder of a mother of five. She asked if any of them have a problem with the charges, or a concern looking at the autopsy photos. One potential juror said that he witnessed a graphic car accident as a child, and he said the images would affect his emotions, the juror was granted dismissal.
Prosecutor Rachel Smith then began speaking to the potential jurors, she emphasized that they need to strictly follow instructions given by the court, not seen on TV, or outside of the courtroom. She also asked them if they would have an issue convicting someone of murder if it’s unknown how they died, and they said no.
Jim Archibald, Daybell’s attorney spoke to the potential jurors on behalf of the defense. Archibald questioned specific jurors if they could avoid the news, and they agreed they could.
Archibald then told potential jurors that he does not have to prove anything. As previously established, it is up to the state to prove she is guilty. Archibald asked if they would hold it against him if Daybell does not testify, and they said they would not.
After a brief recess, the group was questioned individually. Boyce asked jurors, one at a time, about their media exposure to the case. One juror said she saw media coverage when the bodies were found, but has not watched Dateline, 20/20, Netflix, or other coverage. Another juror said she has seen headlines but did not pay attention. She said she’s not really a true crime fan, “I try to avoid that, but here we are.”
After the group was finished being questioned, five jurors remained. That brings the total to 22 in the pool, the Court needs 42 in the juror pool before they can choose the final 18.
The second group for the day was questioned similarly to previous potential juror groups. Before questioning, Boyce dismissed several due to hardship. Another man was dismissed because he admitted his wife spoke with him about the case and gave him more information.
Rob Wood stressed the importance of “brutal honesty” to potential jurors. Wood asked them if they believe 100% of what they read on the internet, and the potential jurors said no. He then asked them to take everything they’d heard or read about the case and put it aside, and only use the information provided to them during the trial to make a decision.
Rachel Smith then questioned the group of potential jurors. One man said his roommate works for a news station in Boise but does not know if he has covered the case. Another potential juror was asked by Archibald what news was on his phone, and he responded, “I don’t have news on my phone. I have nerd stuff.” He then explained he has anime on his phone.
Archibald continued questioning potential jurors, and one man said he was in Hawaii during the time JJ and Tylee went missing, and heard about the case then, but has not followed the story. Archibald challenged to dismiss the juror for implied bias, but his challenge was overruled.
After questioning, three jurors from this group advanced. This brings the total to 25 potential jurors. The final group was invited into the courtroom to be questioned.
Due to answers to their questionnaires, only six made it to be questioned. The prosecution and defense gave instructions and questioned the potential jurors with the same questions and presentation they’d given all the groups. From the final group, five of the six potential jurors made it through. Tuesday ended with 30 people in the jury pool.
Day Three: Jury Selection Continues, Opening Arguments Scheduled
Jury selection continued on Day three, Wednesday, April 5, at the Ada County Courthouse. As with all previous jury selection days, three groups of 15 people will be questioned by Boyce, prosecuting attorneys, and defense attorneys both as a group and individually.
Seven potential jurors were dismissed prior to questioning due to hardship and bias reasons, and one potential juror was a no-show. Only seven potential jurors remained in the first group for questioning.
Boyce introduced attorneys to the potential jurors and explained the charges against Lori Vallow Daybell. One juror asked if they would be able to work at the end of the day, and Boyce said the goal is to end court at 3:30 p.m. every day.
Boyce asked potential jurors if any of them are related to Daybell, the attorneys, or if any are involved in any civil litigation with Daybell, and they all said no.
Attorneys for the prosecution questioned potential jurors, similar to the first two days, including Prosecuting Attorney, Bob Wood, who asked jurors to be “brutally honest” with them while answering questions. He asked potential jurors to put aside everything they’d heard about the case on the news or elsewhere, and only use what is given to them in the courtroom.
Wood said they will see autopsy photos of children and asked a potential juror, a mother, how she felt about seeing “emotionally charged” evidence. The woman, a mother of five, said it would be difficult for her, and make her emotional. When asked if she can be a fair and impartial judge, she said no. Boyce dismissed her.
The potential jurors were then questioned individually about their media exposure to the case. One woman was excused for implicit bias because she told Wood, “I can honestly say I have no clue if she was part of it or not but I do think she knows what happened because she went to Hawaii.”
Many of the next potential jurors said they saw some coverage but didn’t know much about the case. From the first group, five people remained, bringing the total to 35 in the potential jury pool, only 7 more are needed for the Court to narrow it down, and finalize jurors.
The second group of potential jurors, only had nine jurors, as the rest were dismissed prior to questioning due to hardship or bias concerns. Boyce gave instructions to the new group of jurors, and two more were dismissed for hardship.
Lindsey Blake asked the new potential jurors to be “brutally honest,” and follow instructions. This time Blake gave the analogy of getting on a plane. She asked if the jurors would prefer to get on a flight with a pilot who is unsure of landing the plane, or with a pilot who is confident. Blake stated that jurors need to commit to “landing the plane” and follow instructions precisely as given by the court.
Prosecutor Rachel Smith questioned the group of jurors, followed by defense attorney John Thomas. Thomas asked potential jurors if they would be uncomfortable looking at autopsy photos, one woman said yes, and was dismissed.
After individual questioning, four remained from the third group. At the end of the day on Thursday, there were 39 potential jurors in the pool, only 3 short of the necessary 42. Jury selection was scheduled to continue at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, where a new group will be questioned to try to reach 42.
Day Four: Jury Selection Complete, What Happens Next
A new group of potential jurors was questioned Thursday in order to bring the potential juror pool to 42. Three potential jurors were no-shows, and 24 remained for questioning.
Boyce read potential jurors’ instructions including avoiding talking about the case, reading about the case, etc. He then asked potential jurors if they were related to Daybell or any of the lawyers. One juror brought up that the case may cause hardship, and was dismissed.
Rob Wood, a prosecutor, questioned jurors, asked them to be “brutally honest,” and told them Daybell has an “absolute right” to a fair trial, and impartial jury. He then told them they would see evidence that is “emotionally charged” and “graphic,” and asked one juror if she would be okay seeing it, she said it would be hard but she will be fine. Prosecutor Rachel Smith then questioned jurors.
Boyce excused a juror due to a personal relationship with someone at the courthouse, and then defense attorneys Jim Archibald, and John Thomas questioned the remaining jurors. Several were dismissed due to hardship.
Jurors were then questioned about their media exposure to the case, and several jurors make it through questioning and advanced to the juror pool. The juror pool hits 42, but attorneys and judges worked to get three backups and brought the jury pool to 45.
That number will be narrowed down to 18 on Friday morning. Prosecutors and defense attorneys will each eliminate 12 jurors without cause. After that is completed, 12 men and women will serve on the jury with six alternates.
Boyce scheduled opening arguments in the Daybell murder trial to begin at the Ada County Courthouse on Monday at 8:30 a.m. Check back into ABC4.com on April 10 for progress on the case.