Why you won’t be able to watch live during Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial in Idaho

Apr 3, 2023, 10:44 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2023, 3:29 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — For more than two years, the courtroom’s been wide open. Most anyone could take a virtual seat and watch the latest developments as the Idaho case against Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell got closer to trial.

News outlets like KSL TV, along with the Idaho courts, ran live broadcasts of the hearings marked by immense public interest and bizarre, tragic allegations involving the deaths of two children and their mother’s doomsday beliefs.

Click here for complete coverage of the Lori Vallow Daybell trial

But not anymore. The only way to get a glimpse of the big moments or the subtle reactions during Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial beginning Monday is to snag a seat inside Boise’s Ada County Courthouse.

In September, 7th District Judge Steven Boyce banned news cameras in the case going forward, siding with Vallow Daybell’s defense attorneys, who argued the video could prevent a fair trial.

So, what does that ruling mean for transparency and for Lori Vallow Daybell’s defense?

“The access to the courtroom and to public trials is one really important American virtue,” said University of Utah law professor Teneille Brown. “But then, making sure defendants get fair trials is probably an even more important one.”

News cameras can pull attorneys’ focus away from lawyering, make witnesses nervous enough to appear not credible, and entice jurors to scan social media and news coverage even after judges instruct them not to, Brown said.

All of that can make a case vulnerable to appeal. But is that possibility a good enough reason to limit public access?

A coalition of news organizations, including KSL.com, pushed back against efforts to ban cameras in the case, arguing in a motion that the public has a right to observe the proceedings.

“People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they are prohibited from observing,” the motion states.

Brown said the debate illustrates a “flashpoint moment” for today’s legal system.

“There’s real appetite for real-time access to courtroom footage,” she said. “But then, some judges aren’t willing to grant that kind of live streaming access just yet.”

JJ Vallow’s grandfather and other family members also wanted the chance to tune in to the trial. While the judge has agreed to release audio recordings, those could come hours or days later.

That’s a significant delay for a public accustomed to watching live when the court is in session.

Millions of viewers watched Gwyneth Paltrow’s ski trial in Utah. Live viewers also weighed Johnny Depp’s testimony against Amber Heard last year. And they watched a jury return murder verdicts against Virginia lawyer Alex Murdaugh.

Not to mention prior hearings for Vallow Daybell and her husband, Chad Daybell.

“The cat’s out of the bag, largely,” said defense attorney Greg Skordas, who’s analyzing the Vallow Daybell case for KSL. “But now that the trial’s started, I think the defense really wants to make sure that the jury isn’t tainted by that further.”

Still, the KSL Investigators could not find any Idaho conviction that was later reversed because of publicity.

“I think there’s a strong argument that, ‘Why not just let the public know? They have the right to know,’” Skordas said. “But in this case, the judge decided not to.”

KSL journalists will be inside the courtroom throughout the trial. Even though we can’t record, we’ll bring you the latest from opening arguments to the eventual verdict.

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Why you won’t be able to watch live during Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial in Idaho