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Judge agrees to remove himself from Idaho mom’s missing kids case

Attorneys for Lori Daybell argued for judge’s disqualification

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Lori Vallow Daybell glances at the camera during her hearing in 2020 in Rexburg, Idaho.

John Roark, the Idaho Post-Register via Associated Press

REXBURG, Idaho — A judge has agreed to recuse himself from the criminal case for Lori Vallow Daybell, the Idaho mother whose two missing children were last seen in September.

Judge Faren Eddins said Friday he would err on the side of defendants’ rights. In Idaho, a person has a right to “disqualify a judge, without reason, without cause, just because,” at least once in a case, he said during a Friday hearing.

Attorneys for Daybell — who appears in some court documents under the name Lori Vallow but asked in a recent hearing to be identified by her new married name, Daybell — argued in court filings that Eddins presided over her separate, civil child custody case that predated the criminal charges. They said his involvement in the earlier case creates a conflict or bias that could infringe on her right to a fair trial.

Daybell’s children have not been found. Her 7-year-old son, Joshua “JJ” Vallow, was last seen Sept. 23, and his big sister, 17-year-old Tylee Ryan, was last seen Sept. 8 — the same day the family went on a daytrip through Yellowstone National Park.

Eddins reduced Daybell’s bond last week from $5 million to $1 million, noting she had not indicated where her kids are despite a court order in the civil proceeding. Daybell, 46, remains jailed in the Madison County Jail and did not attend the hearing, East Idaho News reported. One of her defense attorneys participated by phone.

She was arrested in Hawaii last month, where authorities say she and her husband, Chad Daybell, traveled after police sought to question her. Authorities in Rexburg have said they “strongly believe that Joshua and Tylee’s lives are in danger” and allege the Daybells have lied several times about the children’s whereabouts.

Lori Daybell’s attorney, Edwina Elcox, has previously said her client “is dedicated to vigorously defending against these allegations” and has suggested prosecutors filed charges in reaction to news media attention surrounding the case.

The case spans several states and includes investigations into rumors of Lori and Chad Daybell’s apocalyptic religious beliefs and the mysterious deaths of their former spouses, as well as a brother of hers.

Lori Daybell is charged with two felony counts of child desertion, plus three misdemeanor counts of obstruction, solicitation and contempt after authorities say she gave police false information and directed another person to do the same.

A two-day preliminary hearing that was originally scheduled for next week has been postponed until May 7 and 8 after both parties agreed to the change. A new judge was not immediately assigned Friday.