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News / Nation & World

Jurors could soon decide the fate of Idaho man charged in triple-murder case

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press
Published: May 29, 2024, 7:53am

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Prosecutors will make their final arguments to jurors on Wednesday in the case of an Idaho man accused of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two youngest children.

The trial of Chad Daybell has already lasted roughly two months, featuring testimony from dozens of witnesses at times turning strange and gruesome.

Prosecutors say Daybell, 55, promoted unusual and apocalyptic spiritual beliefs in order to justify the murders, all so that he could fulfill his desire for money, sex and power. They have said they will seek the death penalty if Daybell is convicted.

Daybell’s defense attorney, John Prior, contends there simply isn’t enough evidence to conclusively tie Daybell to the deaths, or even to prove that his late wife, Tammy Daybell, was killed instead of dying from natural causes. Several witnesses, including Chad and Tammy Daybell’s adult children, testified for the defense.

Daybell is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Tammy Daybell, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan.

Last year, the children’s mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, received a life sentence without parole for the killings.

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell’s death in October 2019, raising suspicion among local law enforcement officials. Tammy Daybell’s body was later exhumed, and officials say an autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation. Chad Daybell had told officials that Tammy Daybell had been sick, and that she died in her sleep.

Witnesses for both sides seem to agree on a few things, however: Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell were having an affair that began well before Tammy Daybell died, and the two young children were missing for months before their remains were found buried in Chad Daybell’s backyard.

The case began in the fall of 2019, when Lori Vallow Daybell’s then-estranged husband, Charles Vallow, was shot to death at his home in a Phoenix, Arizona suburb. Vallow Daybell’s brother Alex Cox committed the shooting, but told police it was in self-defense. Cox was never charged.

Lori Vallow Daybell, her kids JJ and Tylee, and her brother Cox all moved to eastern Idaho, settling in a town not far from the rural area where Chad Daybell lived. Just a few months later, extended family reported the two children missing and law enforcement officials launched a search that spanned several states.

The children’s remains were found nearly a year later buried on Chad Daybell’s property. Investigators later determined both children died in September 2019. Prosecutors say Cox conspired with Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell in all three deaths, but Cox died of natural causes during the investigation and was never charged.

During the trial, prosecutors presented testimony from Lori Vallow Daybell’s niece, who said the couple believed that people could be possessed by evil spirits, rendering the person a “zombie.” They said that zombies would eventually be overcome by the dark spirit and die, Melani Pawlowski told jurors. Her testimony echoed that given last year by another friend of the couple, Melanie Gibb. Gibb testified during Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial that she heard Vallow Daybell call the two kids “zombies” before they vanished.

Jurors heard grim testimony from law enforcement officers who described finding the children’s bodies in Daybell’s yard. They were also presented with dozens of cellphone records and messages between Daybell and Vallow Daybell, including some that showed she called him the day Charles Vallow died. Daybell allegedly told Vallow Daybell in one message that JJ was “barely attached to his body” and that there “is a plan being orchestrated for the children.”

Defense witnesses included Dr. Kathy Raven, a forensic pathologist who reviewed reports from Tammy Daybell’s autopsy and said she believed the cause of death should have been classified as “undetermined.”

Chad Daybell’s son, Garth Daybell, testified that his mother had been fatigued and sickly before she died. He told jurors he was home the night his mother died and that he heard no disturbances from his bedroom next to his parents’ room. He said he later felt like police officers and prosecutors were trying to pressure him to change his story, even threatening him with perjury charges at one point.

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