Judge says prosecutor will stay on Daybell case

Posted at 6:17 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 20:17:20-05

This article was originally published by Eric Grossarth in East Idaho News.

Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood will remain on the cases of Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell.

Judge Steven Boyce made the decision late Friday afternoon after a day and half of arguments from Wood’s attorney, Madison County Deputy Prosecutor Troy Evans, and attorneys representing the Daybells.

“The court cannot find at this time that the interaction between Mr. Wood and the witness would render Mr. Wood’s continued participation, in this case, unfair and cannot determine that the prosecutor’s pretrial activity will be a material issue in this case,’ Boyce said.

The couple is charged with felonies related to the concealment, alteration and destruction of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, Lori’s two children. In June, investigators found their bodies buried on Chad’s Salem property.

Lori’s attorney, Marks Means, and Chad’s attorney, John Prior, accused Wood of prosecutorial misconduct following a conversation Wood had with Lori’s sister, Summer Shiflet, on Oct. 1, 2020, in Arizona.

Wood denied the allegations and asked for an expedited hearing to clear up the matter. The hearing took place all day Wednesday and on Friday afternoon. Chad and Lori did not appear.

Means and Prior allege that Wood tried to “coerce, unduly influence, coach, and or intimidate” Shiflet. The attorneys also say Wood inappropriately discussed the case with Lori’s sister-in-law Zulema Pastenes.

On Wednesday, Shiflet’s attorney, Garrett Smith, testified along with James Davidson, a forensic psychologist, and University of Idaho Law Professor Samuel Newton. They were asked their opinions about Smith’s recording of the conversation between Wood and Shiflet.

Wood and Evans filed new documents Friday morning asking that Shiflet be allowed to testify and an affidavit be submitted Mindy Gee. The woman is a staff member in Wood’s office who took a call from Shiflet.

Means and Prior objected to both requests. Boyce agreed to allow part of Gee’s affidavit into the hearing but denied testimony from Shiflet.

In his closing remarks, Prior questioned Wood’s ability to prosecute the case and said that because he made “disparaging comments” to Shiflet, Wood should be removed. Prior said such comments were an attempt to influence and manipulate Shiflet’s testimony if she is called as a witness in her sister’s case.

“Mr. Wood is cheating,” Prior said. “Mr Wood is lying, and Mr. Wood is doing nothing but trying to influence, coach, intimidate a witness, before that witness has had a chance to get in front of a trial.”

Means said Wood and Shiflet’s conversation raised “red flags” and eyebrows” and argued that experts in the case testified that the prosecutor was attempting to coerce and manipulate Shiflet. Means said now other witnesses need to be investigated because of Wood’s alleged actions.

“If this type of behavior goes unwarranted, unchecked, unsanctioned, you are telling myself, Mr. Prior, the prosecutor and anyone else who wants to cite this case in the future that you can engage in these tactics without repercussions,” Means said. “That is a dangerous precedent that I don’t think any court or any witness or defendant would want to have.”

Evans disagreed with the accusations and argued that Wood never told Shiflet what to say during the conversation and affirmed that Smith, Shiflet’s attorney, never objected or opposed to anything discussed during the meeting.

“The defendants again have shown no damage to their client in any way if Mr. Wood stays on the case,” Evans said.

Wood did not speak during the hearing. However, received the following statement from him afterward through a spokeswoman:

“We appreciate the judge’s ruling. We remain resolute and focused on our search for justice for JJ and Tylee.”

The next Daybell hearing is scheduled for a pre-trial conference on June 2. However, the issues of moving the case out from Fremont County and dismissing the case still need to be taken up before Boyce. Those hearings were postponed because of this week’s hearing.