By JOHNATHAN HOGAN
Madison County District Judge Steven Boyce ruled Friday against motions filed in the criminal cases of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell to remove Prosecutor Rob Wood.
The motions were filed after a recording of Wood talking to Summer Shiflet, Vallow’s sister, and making critical remarks of the defendants and Vallow’s attorney Mark Means was discovered by Means and Daybell’s attorney John Prior.
In the recording, Wood described Daybell as “wimpy” and said he looked like he would “pee his pants” when investigators confronted the couple in Hawaii.
Means and Prior argued the comments could cause a potential witness to be biased against their clients at trial. They also argued that Wood was discussing the investigation in a way that would influence her testimony.
The attorneys began by arguing over whether the prosecution could call Shiflet as a defense witness during the hearing on whether to disqualify him.
Prior and Means argued that Shiflet’s testimony should have been arranged before the hearing, and that her statements and those made in an affidavit by an individual who spoke with Shiflet included hearsay.
Boyce sided with the defense attorneys, ruling that he would not allow Shiflet to testify.
In his argument on why Wood should be disqualified, Prior said that whether he influenced Shiflet’s view of the defendants and Means was not relevant.
“It’s not the impact on the witnesses, it’s the conduct,” Prior said.
Prior argued Wood’s criticism of Means in the phone call would make it harder for Means if he decided to call Shiflet for the defense. He also said he was concerned Wood had made similar remarks to other witnesses, and said he intended to ask for an investigation into conversations between the prosecutor and other potential witnesses.
“It’s a learning moment on what not to do,” Prior said.
Means echoed Prior’s arguments, saying the comments Wood made about Daybell and himself were inappropriate.
“He engaged in derogatory remarks as if we are in third grade,” Means said.
Means said the judge should rule to disqualify Wood to send a message to other attorneys that such conduct is not acceptable.
“You are telling myself, Mr. Prior, and anybody else who wants to cite this case they can engage in these tactics,” he said.
Madison County Deputy Prosecutor Tony Evans, who represented Wood during the hearing, said the defense attorneys did not offer any case law to set precedent for their arguments. He said Wood had a responsibility to speak to Shiflet as prosecutors often do with witnesses. He said Wood did not tell her to say anything besides the truth.
“They’re throwing things at the wall, hoping something sticks,” Evans said.
Boyce did not say whether he considered Wood’s comments appropriate, but said he ruled in Wood’s favor because it was not clear if Shiflet would be a witness at trial. He said the issue could be revisited if the Idaho Bar Association found Wood had violated standards of conduct for Idaho attorneys, or if Shiflet were listed as a witness.
Boyce said he would reach out to the attorneys to schedule hearings to settle whether to change the venue for the trial.
Vallow and Daybell have both been charged with conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence after the bodies of Vallow’s children, J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan, were found buried on Daybell’s property months after they were reported missing. A joint trial is scheduled for July 12.
Wood indicated in the recording he was looking into bringing up the defendants on murder charges. No such charges have yet been filed. The couple has been under investigation for the children’s deaths, as well as the deaths of Tammy Daybell, Chad Daybell’s wife who died 17 days before he married Vallow, and Charles Vallow, Lori Vallow’s ex-husband who was shot and killed by her brother in reported self-defense in 2019, and another ex-husband of Lori Vallow’s who died in 2018.