Lori Vallow Daybell's attorney accused the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of creating a "code of silence" by requiring church leaders and members to consult with the church's lawyers in certain circumstances before "sharing information in legal proceedings," including in criminal cases.
Lori and her husband, Chad Daybell, are members of the church who face numerous felony charges after the remains of Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16, were found on Chad's land. Both Chad and Lori are set to be arraigned in Idaho, where about a quarter of the population identifies as LDS church members. Lori's attorney, Mark Means, argued that the church's policy could make it difficult to pick a fair jury or to compel witnesses to respond to subpoenas or provide evidence.
The church's position on the issue is listed in its general handbook, but Means questioned church leadership's decision to reiterate such instructions in a letter released on Aug. 4, the second day of Chad's highly publicized preliminary hearing.
In the Aug. 4 letter, first published by FOX 13 Utah, leaders from the church's office of the first presidency in Salt Lake City reminded leaders and members that they "should not involve themselves in civil or criminal cases regarding members in their units, quorums, or organizations" or correspond "with court personnel on behalf of criminal defendants or others, including through email" without "first consulting Church counsel."
"However well intentioned, Church leaders sharing information in legal proceedings can sometimes be misinterpreted and even damaging," the letter continued. "Such sharing can be especially harmful to victims and their families. Following the Church's policy also keeps the Church from being inappropriately implicated in legal matters."
In response, Means wrote on Aug. 13 that "the LDS Church has told approximately 26 percent of the residents of the State of Idaho to contact Church legal counsel to enter into a code of silence and to only discuss their potential knowledge of this case and any other civil or criminal case after filtering said 'knowledge' through the lens that is the LDS Church."
"These LDS residents make up possible jury pool members, witnesses, judges, prosecutors, police officers, detectives, deputies, police chiefs/captains, and other elected and nonelected officials throughout the State of Idaho," Means added in the letter, which was published by EastIdahoNews.com.
"By way of this correspondence, and undoubtedly being read from the LDS pulpit, the LDS church has tainted the Court’s ability for full disclosure by LDS witnesses, evidence procurement, jury pool, and the like. That in turn affects our guaranteed basic fundamental right of right to an impartial jury and the lawful and controlling presumption of innocence until proven guilty," Means concluded. "This 'policy' is at least disturbing and at worse, criminal."
A spokesperson for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints declined to comment on the record about Means' accusations, but reiterated that the church's Aug. 4 letter was part of a long-standing policy that "has been in place for decades, and the letter and the timing of its release has nothing to do with any pending case."
The spokesperson also declined to comment on whether Chad or Lori had been excommunicated from the church, explaining that church membership status "is left for individuals to discuss if they choose."
Investigators believe that JJ and Tylee were killed shortly after they were last seen in September and buried on Chad's land by Lori's brother, Alex Cox. Lori never reported the children missing, according to police, and lied about where they were during the Nov. 26 welfare check. JJ and Tylee's remains were discovered June 9.
Chad faces felony charges of willfully destroying, concealing or altering evidence and conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. He is set to be arraigned on Aug. 21 in Fremont County and has previously pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Lori faces felony charges of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence and is set to be arraigned on Aug. 27 in Fremont County. Lori also faces
Chad and Lori remain in jail in Idaho, where they are both being held on $1 million bond.
Separately, Chad and Lori are currently under investigation by the Idaho Attorney General's office for "conspiracy, attempted murder and/or murder" in the death of Chad's first wife, Tammy, who died weeks before the couple married last fall.
Lori also remains a person of interest in the July 2019 shooting of her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, and could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder in his death, according to the Chandler Police Department in Arizona, where Lori used to live.
Neither Means nor Chad's attorney, John Prior, responded to Inside Edition Digital's requests for comment for this story.
The Rexburg Police Department asks anyone with information regarding the case to contact them at 1-208-359-3000.