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Doomsday plot: Jury in Idaho convicts Chad Daybell of murdering his wife and girlfriend's two children

BOISE, Idaho — An Idaho man was found guilty Thursday of killing his wife and his new girlfriend's two youngest children in a strange triple murder case that also involved claims of apocalyptic prophecies, zombie children and illicit affairs.

The jury deliberated just six hours before finding Chad Daybell guilty on all counts, concluding a case that began in 2019 and spanned at least four states. Daybell, standing and dressed in a long-sleeved shirt, remained stoic as the verdicts were read.

Now the jury must decide whether 55-year-old Daybell should die for the murders of Tammy Daybell, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow. The sentencing phase of the nearly two-month trial began Thursday and will continue Friday.

The children's mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, was sentenced to life without parole last year on the same conspiracy and murder charges. She married Chad Daybell just two weeks after Tammy Daybell's murder.

The case attracted widespread media attention, and the judge moved the trial from the rural eastern Idaho community where the murders took place to Boise, Idaho, to ensure a fair and impartial jury.

During the sentencing phase, prosecutors will try to prove that the crimes deserve the death penalty because they were especially reprehensible, heinous or cruel, or because they meet one of the other “aggravating factors” listed in state law. Daybell's defense, meanwhile, will try to present mitigating circumstances to the jury that could show the jury that a lighter sentence is more appropriate.

The case began in September 2019, when distant family members reported the two children missing and police launched a search that spanned several states. The subsequent investigation took several unexpected turns.

Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell were having an affair when both spouses died unexpectedly, investigators said. Vallow Daybell's husband was shot and killed by her brother Alex Cox in Arizona in July 2019; the brother told police it was in self-defense. No charges have been filed against him.

Vallow Daybell, her children JJ and Tylee, and Cox later moved to eastern Idaho to be closer to Daybell, a self-published author of doomsday novels loosely based on Mormon teachings.

In October 2019, Tammy Daybell died. Chad Daybell initially told police she had been battling an illness and died in her sleep, but an autopsy later revealed she died of asphyxiation. Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell's death, surprising family members.

Nearly a year after the children disappeared, their remains were found on Chad Daybell's property in eastern Idaho. Investigators later determined that both children had 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.

Prosecutors called dozens of witnesses to support their claim that Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell conspired to kill the two children and Tammy Daybell because they wanted to remove all obstacles to their relationship and receive money from survivor benefits and life insurance policies. Prosecutors say the couple justified the murders by creating an apocalyptic belief system that people can be possessed by evil spirits and turned into “zombies” and that the only way to save a possessed person's soul is for the possessed body to die.

According to Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsay Blake, Daybell described himself as a leader of what he called the “Church of the Firstborn” and told Vallow Daybell and others he could tell if someone had become a “zombie.” Daybell also claimed he could tell how close a person was to death by reading the “death rate,” which he referred to as a “percentage,” Blake said.

With these elements, Daybell followed a pattern for each of those killed, Blake said.

“Chad Daybell would call them 'dark.' Their 'mortality rate' would go down. Then they would have to die,” she said in her closing argument.

Blake also said Daybell manipulated Vallow Daybell and her brother Cox into helping with the plan, giving Cox “spiritual blessings” at times and warning Vallow Daybell that the angels were angry because she was ignoring him at times.

Daybell's defense attorney, John Prior, refuted the prosecution's descriptions of Daybell's faith. He described Daybell as a traditional member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a deeply religious man who spoke about his spiritual beliefs at every opportunity.

Prior said police were only looking for things to use against Daybell, not the actual facts of the case – and he claimed the children's late uncle, Cox, committed the crimes. He pointed out that Cox had previously killed JJ Vallow's father in Arizona and that the two children were the only witnesses to that shooting. He also said Cox tried to pin the blame on Daybell by burying the slain children in Daybell's yard in eastern Idaho.

Witnesses from both sides agreed that Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell had an affair that began long before Tammy Daybell's death.

Among the defense witnesses was forensic pathologist Dr. Kathy Raven, who reviewed Tammy Daybell's autopsy reports and stated that in her opinion the cause of death should have been classified as “undetermined.”

JJ Vallow's grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, were among those watching Thursday's verdict. Kay Woodcock is the person who initially led police to investigate after asking them to conduct a welfare check on JJ in 2019. She became increasingly concerned after Vallow Daybell, she said, refused to put JJ on the phone, even though the child had previously had frequent video and voice conversations with the Woodcocks.

Anna Harden

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