IDAHO FALLS — Although a psychologist has said Lori Vallow Daybell is not competent for trial right now, a judge still needs to legally declare it, and a pause in court proceedings could only be temporary.
Daybell and husband Chad Daybell are charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit murder and first-degree murder, among other crimes. The charges are in relation to the killings of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan — two of Lori’s kids — and Chad’s first wife, Tammy Daybell.
Mark Means, Daybell’s defense attorney, requested a psychological evaluation for his client in March. A licensed clinical psychologist met with Daybell in the Madison County Jail on at least two days and, according to court documents filed last week, determined “the defendant was not competent to proceed.” Restorative treatment was recommended.
Bonneville County Prosecutor Danny Clark, who has nothing to do with the Daybell case, has seen similar situations play out in his 20 years of prosecuting crimes.
“It’s a very well-educated opinion on her competency … but ultimately, the determination of competency is a judicial ruling made by a judge. That has not occurred as of yet,” Clark tells EastIdahoNews.com. “Competency is a very specific thing. It does not mean there isn’t a mental illness. It doesn’t mean they don’t suffer from certain things. It means simply comprehending or understanding the proceedings against them.”
In order for Daybell to be competent for trial, Idaho law says she must understand the proceedings against her and be able to assist in her own defense. If Judge Steven Boyce rules she cannot, hearings are put on hold for 90 days.
Daybell will likely be placed in a facility for treatment with the goal of getting her competent. If that happens, court proceedings resume as normal. If not, the pause extends another 180 days, and she would continue to receive treatment.
“If the defendant is then deemed to be not competent and not likely to become competent, they are committed to Department of Health and Welfare until they become competent,” Clark says.
There is no insanity defense in Idaho, and it is “very, very rare” for a case to be paused and never resume because of competency, according to Clark. He has only seen that happen once in Bonneville County over the past two decades.
“That’s a lot of cases, a lot of evaluations, a lot of findings of incompetency that later are determined competent,” he says. “I would imagine this would be similar to those cases. … I’ve had cases where someone was determined to be incompetent three times on the case before it got to a conclusion. It might take some time, but it almost always moves forward.”
In more cases, defense attorneys ask for psychological exams because they spend more time with their clients than prosecuting attorneys. The requests usually happen shortly after someone is taken into custody, but in Daybell’s case, Means asked for an exam a year after she was booked into the Madison County Jail.
Although that might seem unusual, Clark says it’s not unheard of.
“I’ve had cases where the defense attorney brought the issue up six months into the case, and we all respected his or her decision to bring the issue up at that stage based on what they were seeing,” he says.
Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood disputes the findings in Daybell’s psychological report, according to court documents, so he could argue that it be thrown out or request a second opinion.
A hearing on the matter has been scheduled for June 16 at 9 a.m. where Boyce will decide how to proceed.