MERIDIAN, Idaho, Aug. 14, 2020 (East Idaho News/Gephardt Daily) — The attorney for Lori Vallow Daybell says a letter sent from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints First Presidency to local leaders last week is “alarming and concerning,” the East Idaho News reports.
Mark Means issued a five-page response Thursday after church leaders Russell M. Nelson, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring released a letter Aug. 4 with the subject “Involvement in Legal Proceedings.”
“We remind leaders and members of a long-standing policy that Church leaders should not involve themselves in civil or criminal cases regarding members in their units, quorums or organizations without first consulting with Church legal counsel,” the letter says in part. “However well intentioned, Church leaders sharing information in legal proceedings can sometimes be misinterpreted and even damaging.”
The First Presidency says if local leaders believe they should testify or communicate in a legal matter, they should first contact church attorneys in Salt Lake City.
The counsel from leaders has been church policy for several years and is contained in the Church General Handbook. But Means notes that the letter was released on the second day of the preliminary hearing of Chad Daybell and could impact upcoming trials.
“By way of issuing this correspondence on the second day of a preliminary hearing … the LDS Church has told approximately 26% 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,” Means wrote in the letter shared with East Idaho News.
“These LDS residents make up possible jury pool members, witnesses, judges, prosecutors, police officers, detectives, deputies, police chiefs/captains, and other elected and non-elected officials throughout the State of Idaho.”
Means says the church’s policy is “disturbing, and at worst, criminal” and goes against its own doctrine that a Latter-day Saint should “strictly obey every law of God, including the constitutional laws of the land in which he lives, and do it with a good and honest heart.”
After authorities found the remains of her two children, ages 7 and 16, on the Salem property of Chad, Lori was charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, along with misdemeanor resisting or obstructing officers, criminal solicitation to commit a crime and contempt of court. Chad is charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, and two felony counts of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence.
Both Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell are scheduled to be arraigned this month, and Means argues the First Presidency letter could impact upcoming trials.
“The LDS Church has tainted the Court’s ability for full disclosure by LDS witnesses, evidence procurement, jury pool and the like,” Means wrote. “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.”
Doug Andersen, a spokesman for the church, tells EastIdahoNews.com the letter “serves as a routine reiteration of a long-standing policy and has nothing to do with any pending case.”
“This policy is intended to help leaders in their ministerial role to all those they serve, by not appearing to take sides in legal proceedings and to avoid implicating the Church in legal proceedings to which it is not a party,” Andersen says in a statement. “This policy is included in the General Handbook and similar notices have been sent in recent years to reinforce this policy.”