East Idaho News Reporter Covering Daybell Case Called to Testify at Trial
"The First Amendment protects the independence of the press so it can report on criminal cases and not be forced to become witnesses in them. We hope the defense will reconsider this course and withdraw the subpoena," attorney Jeffrey Hunt said.
An East Idaho reporter who has extensively covered the Chad and Lori Daybell case has been ordered to appear as a witness in their trial. The case relates to the deaths of two children, 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, who were missing for several months before their remains were found buried in their stepfather's backyard last summer.
Nate Eaton, the news director at East Idaho News, was subpoenaed Tuesday and appeared on the list as a "lay witness," according to an image posted on Twitter.
John Prior, an attorney representing Chad Daybell, filed the subpoena to have Eaton appear in court as a witness on June 9.
“Attorneys should refrain from subpoenaing journalists, and U.S. courts should not grant such orders, which imperil reporters’ abilities to do their jobs,” Committee to Protect Journalists Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna said. “EastIdahoNews.com reporter Nate Eaton belongs in the courtroom’s press box and not on the witness stand.
Jeffrey Hunt, Eaton's attorney, also issued a statement, writing, "news reporters should not be conscripted as witnesses for either side in a criminal case, particularly in a case of such enormous public interest and concern."
"The First Amendment protects the independence of the press so it can report on criminal cases and not be forced to become witnesses in them. We hope the defense will reconsider this course and withdraw the subpoena."
A court administrator told CPJ that she "can't speak for the presiding judge as to whether they're going to enforce the subpoena or not."
JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan hadn't been seen by family or friends since September 2019 and were officially reported missing from their East Idaho suburb on Dec. 20, after grandparents requested police to conduct a welfare check for JJ at Lori's home, according to previous reports.
Lori Daybell, the mother of both kids, and her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, refused to cooperate with the police for months and eventually traveled to Hawaii. Lori was served a notice on Jan. 26 stating she must produce her children to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare or the Rexburg Police Department within five days, the East Idaho News reported.
Lori failed to produce the children within the requested time frame and continued to refuse to disclose their whereabouts. Lori was arrested in Kauai on a $5 million warrant and extradited back to Idaho.
The children's bodies were found months later on June 9 at Chad's property in Rexburg and he was later taken into custody.
The Daybells were both charged with conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration, or concealment of evidence in connection to the children's disappearance last year. They pleaded not guilty to all charges against them. They both deny any wrongdoing in the case.
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