Mediation next for Idaho woman whose granddaughter was found dead. New charges ahead?

·3 min read
Ian Max Stevenson/istevenson@idahostatesman.com

The case of an Emmett woman accused of concealing her granddaughter’s death will go to criminal mediation before a trial that still is scheduled to begin in March.

Connie Smith, 54, has been charged with felony failure to notify authorities of a death and destruction of evidence, according to court records. At a Friday hearing, the state announced its intention to file additional charges.

The charges stem from last April, when 8-year-old Taryn Summers was reported missing. On April 14, Taryn’s body was discovered inside of a trash bag on the backseat floorboard of a Lexus parked in front of Smith’s home on Airport Road, near Idaho 52 in Emmett, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

The case has faced multiple delays already, and a jury trial originally scheduled for earlier this month was postponed.

Gem County prosecutor Erik Thomson on Friday asked for a trial scheduled to begin on March 1 to be delayed, while also asking the court to send the case to criminal mediation — a process by which both parties voluntarily meet confidentially with a mediator to try to resolve all or part of the issues in the case.

Smith’s attorney, Mark Coonts, objected to moving the trial on Friday but assented to the mediation.

“Given the fact that we cannot go to trial right now, I think at least attempting mediation would be useful,” Coonts said.

Third District Judge Gene Petty declined to move the trial while ordering the case to mediation. But Petty acknowledged that the trial is unlikely to go forward as planned because of pandemic restrictions.

Jury trials are suspended in Gem County while the omicron surge continues. Per an administrative order, trials will continue to be on hold while the COVID-19 incidence rate remains high in the county and while the local public health district is under crisis standards of care.

On Monday, the Department of Health and Welfare reactivated crisis standards in Southwest District Health, which includes Gem County.

Whether the proceedings can continue will depend on the COVID-19 data for the region published on Feb. 17, Petty said.

“I know that’s only a few weeks away, and (the numbers) would have to drop quite a bit between now and then in order to keep this trial date,” he said. “But I hesitate to move this trial based in part to the number of cases and lengthy trials that I have scheduled for the rest of the spring and early summer. … This case has been pending for quite awhile now.”

Thomson said in court that the state plans to “change charges and charging language in this case.” However, “per the court’s order, we will attempt to resolve the case (at mediation),” Thomson told the Idaho Statesman by phone.

Potential charges that have not been filed often can be used as a bargaining tool during mediation, Tara Hill, administrative supervisor for the Trial Court Administrator’s office in the 3rd District, told the Statesman, speaking generally about the process.

Smith is still being held at the Gem County Jail.