Skordas: Lori Vallow Daybell being spared the death penalty isn’t surprising
Apr 4, 2023, 1:30 PM | Updated: 1:39 pm
This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.
ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Reading the reports of an Idaho judge dismissing the death penalty as an option in the Lori Vallow Daybell double murder trial, the words “shock” and “surprise” are used to describe the reactions to the judge’s ruling.
However, many observers of this case, especially those who work in the criminal justice system, were surprised that the State of Idaho ever thought that the death penalty was a viable — let alone an attainable — option in the first place.
The homicides, whoever committed them, were horrific. The victims couldn’t be more vulnerable, and Vallow Daybell, who is presumed to be innocent, has been anything but sympathetic. But the prosecution had hurdles in its quest for the death penalty that were insurmountable.
Vallow Daybell, a woman, has no prior criminal history. She suffers from a mental illness. Her husband is, by all accounts, manipulative. And she’s white. There was little or no chance that an Idaho jury would unanimously agree that she should be executed.
Idaho, like Utah, has a death penalty statute that requires a capital murder trial to be divided into two phases: a guilt phase and a penalty phase. In every other criminal trial, the jury’s only decision is about guilt or innocence. The judge decides the punishment.
A jury was never going to unanimously agree that a 50-year-old, mentally ill, manipulated white woman should receive the death penalty no matter what the facts.
Death rows in America are disproportionately made up of Black males. It’s a sad but true fact. If Vallow Daybell were Black or male or we’d be having a different conversation.
Prosecutors are taught that they should only seek the death penalty when they can reasonably assume they will achieve it.
That wasn’t going to happen in Idaho.
Greg Skordas is the legal analyst for KSL NewsRadio.