What’s expected to happen at Chad Daybell’s preliminary hearing

ST. ANTHONY — Chad Daybell will appear before a judge and hear evidence about the crimes he allegedly committed for the first time in person Monday.

A preliminary hearing will begin at 9 a.m. in the Fremont County Courthouse. Daybell is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, and two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.

He was arrested June 9 after the remains of Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16, were found buried on his property. Since then, he has appeared for court hearings from the Fremont County Jail via Zoom but on Monday, he and his attorney, John Prior, will go before Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins in a courtroom while Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood calls witnesses and presents evidence. Wood has been appointed as a special prosecutor in the case.

“A preliminary hearing is where a judge in open court makes a determination whether there’s probable cause. More specifically, the judge determines whether a crime was committed and whether the defendant probably committed that crime,” says Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Danny Clark.

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Clark is not associated with the Daybell cases but agreed to speak to EastIdahoNews.com to explain how court proceedings generally work. He says once a criminal complaint is filed and a defendant is in custody, a preliminary hearing is usually held within 14 days. In big cases, that timeframe can be extended.

During Daybell’s hearing, Wood will need to convince Eddins that Daybell likely committed the crimes he’s accused of. Wood has subpoenaed several people to testify, including FBI Special Agent Benjamin Dean, FBI Special Agent Steven Daniels, FBI Special Agent Gary Lyu and Rylene Nowlin, an employee with Idaho State Police Forensic Services.

Melanie Gibb and David Warwick, friends of Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell’s, confirm to EastIdahoNews.com that they will also be called as witnesses.

“This is the first time in open court where the defendant has the right to vet or challenge evidence in some way,” Clark says. “It would be very unlikely for the defense to put on any evidence at all in a preliminary hearing. Even if they have some, they generally would not put it on. It’s always the state that’s putting on the evidence at a prelim.”

Danny Clark

Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Danny Clark

Even though Wood will be arguing his case, Clark says prosecutors rarely present all of their evidence at a preliminary hearing because they don’t need to.

“The obligation is to put on sufficient competent evidence to show the defendant probably committed the crime. That’s the legal standard,” Clark explains.

After the hearing, Eddins will decide whether Daybell’s case should be bound over, or advanced, from magistrate court to district court. If that happens, a district judge will be assigned, and Eddins will no longer be involved.

An arraignment will then be scheduled, where Daybell will enter a guilty or not guilty plea. If he pleads guilty, a trial does not need to be held. If he pleads not guilty, the case will eventually go before a jury, but that can take some time.

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“I can’t speak to this case or its timing, but typically on a homicide case, you’re 12 to 24 months, under the best of circumstances, for those to come to trial and some completion. That’s without any delays,” Clark says.

Chad and Lori Daybell in Hawaii in January 2020. | Eric Grossarth, EastIdahoNews.com

One week after Daybell’s hearing, his wife and the mother of the deceased children, Lori Vallow Daybell, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in front of the same judge. She is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.

It’s possible both defendants could waive their hearings up until the time they are scheduled. If that happens, their cases would automatically advance to district court.

While the public may be anxious for a quick resolution, Clark says justice takes time, and it’s important to be patient.

“This is a government body intervening in someone’s life – affecting their personal rights and civil liberties,” Clark says. “We’ve got to balance that against the demand on the government to ensure that everything’s done just right with respect to the defendant. Those things take some time.”

EastIdahoNews.com will provide complete live coverage of Chad Daybell’s preliminary hearing beginning Monday at 9 a.m.