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Chad Daybell found guilty of killing first wife and second wife’s 2 children

<i>John Roark/Pool/AP/File via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing in St. Anthony
John Roark/Pool/AP/File via CNN Newsource
Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing in St. Anthony

By Steve Almasy, Taylor Romine, Ray Sanchez and Dalia Faheid, CNN

(CNN) — Chad Daybell was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in the deaths of his first wife and two children of his second wife in a case Idaho prosecutors claim was fueled by power, sex, money and apocalyptic spiritual beliefs. Daybell could face the death penalty.

Daybell had pleaded not guilty to the charges in the deaths of his first wife, Tammy Daybell, and the children of his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell -– 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow. Wearing a light blue shirt and yellow tie, Daybell showed no emotion as the verdict was read just after 2 p.m. local time.

Authorities have said they believe Tylee and JJ were killed in September 2019 – the month they were last reported to have been seen – and that Tammy Daybell was found dead in her Idaho home on October 19, 2019, a few weeks before Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow Daybell. Tammy Daybell was initially believed to have died in her sleep.

Law enforcement found the remains of Tylee and JJ on Chad Daybell’s Fremont County property in June 2020, authorities said.

The state is seeking the death penalty. That phase of the case began Thursday afternoon, with Judge Steven Boyce giving jurors preliminary instructions. Proceedings were to resume Friday morning.

After the verdict, JJ’s grandfather, Larry Woodcock, told reporters, “It’s a sad day. JJ would have been 12 years old, guys. For what?”

Woodcock remembered the victims, and asked the same question, over and over.

“What did they accomplish? Nothing. What did they do? They destroyed families,” Woodcock said of Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell.

But the defendants, Woodcock said, could not destroy the memories relatives have of the victims. “They can’t take that,” he added, growing emotional at one point. When he heard the jury verdict in court, he said, he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

Deliberations began Wednesday and lasted for a little more than two hours. Deliberations resumed just after 8 a.m. local time on Thursday.

After deliberating about two hours, the jury asked the court for a missing instruction related to the first-degree murder count in the death of Tammy Daybell. They resumed deliberations shortly after receiving the instruction from the court.

Idaho prosecutors claim the killings were fueled by power, sex, money and apocalyptic spiritual beliefs. The prosecutors wrote in a court document that each homicide was “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity.”

Defense attorney John Prior in closing arguments Wednesday said there wasn’t enough direct evidence against Daybell and others were responsible for the deaths.

His wife, Vallow Daybell, was convicted by a jury in May 2023 of the murder of her children and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. She also was convicted of conspiring to kill his former wife, Tammy Daybell. Vallow Daybell has appealed her convictions to the state Supreme Court, with her legal team raising the issue of whether she was mentally competent to stand trial.

‘Sex, money and power’ were key focuses in the trial

During opening statements, the prosecutor and defense attorney painted contrasting portraits of the defendant.

The state described him as a power-hungry and grandiose man who would stop at nothing for “what he considered his rightful destiny.” His defense lawyer portrayed Daybell as a religious man driven into an unfortunate relationship by a “beautiful, vivacious woman” who knew “how to get what she wants.”

“Two dead children buried in the defendant Chad Daybell’s backyard,” prosecutor Rob Wood said in his first words to the jury.

“The next month his wife is found dead in their marital bed. Seventeen days after the death of his wife, Tammy Daybell, this defendant is photographed laughing and dancing on a beach in Hawaii at his wedding to Lori Vallow, a woman who was his mistress and the mother of the children buried in the graves on his property. Three dead bodies.”

When Daybell “had a chance at what he considered his rightful destiny,” Wood said, he “made sure that no person and no law would stand in his way.”

“His desire for sex, money and power led him to pursue those ambitions,” the prosecutor added. “And this pursuit led to the deaths of his wife and Lori’s two innocent children.”

Tammy Daybell was initially believed to have died in her sleep, and Chad Daybell remarried less than three weeks after her death in 2019.

Prior, the defense attorney, said Daybell’s life began to change after he met Vallow Daybell, a “beautifully stunning woman” who “starts giving him a lot of attention” and eventually lured him into an “inappropriate” and “unfortunate” extramarital relationship.

Vallow Daybell’s two children from a previous marriage were last seen on different days in September 2019. Tylee Ryan was a “normal, vibrant teenage girl” who loved her friends and her little brother JJ, who was on the autism spectrum and required special care, according to Wood.

In late November 2019, relatives asked police in Rexburg, Idaho, to do a welfare check on JJ because they hadn’t talked to him recently. Police didn’t find him at the family’s house but did see Vallow Daybell and Daybell, who said JJ was staying with a family friend in Arizona, according to authorities.

When police returned with a search warrant the next day, the couple was gone. They were ultimately found in Hawaii in January 2020.

In June 2020, law enforcement officials found the remains of Tylee and JJ on Daybell’s property in Fremont County, Idaho. Vallow Daybell and Daybell were indicted on murder charges in May 2021.

Tylee was believed to have been killed between September 8 and 9, 2019, and JJ between September 22 and 23, according to prosecutors.

“We are filled with unfathomable sadness that these two bright stars were stolen from us, and only hope that they died without pain or suffering,” the families of the children said in a statement after the remains were found.

During the preliminary hearing, Wood said Daybell helped hide evidence. “Those bodies were concealed, one of them was destroyed, they were located on Chad Daybell’s property,” Wood said.

Prior, however, argued the state didn’t “come close” to having enough evidence to prove Daybell concealed the bodies of JJ or Tylee. “There’s been no indication of any evidence that this act took place on the night of the 22nd or 23rd, or whatever day it was,” Prior said.

Couple believed they were religious figures

During opening statements, Wood described Chad Daybell as a “seemingly ordinary man” who wrote books about the apocalypse, a person who “craves significance” and worked as a sexton in a graveyard.

In October 2018, Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell met at a religious conference in Utah and he began to craft an alternate reality where his “obsession for glory was rooted in her adoration for him,” Wood told jurors.

Soon, Wood said, they viewed their spouses and even their children as “obstacles” that stood in their way.

“Anyone who opposed them were labeled sometimes as dark spirits or even zombies,” the prosecutor said.

During opening statements, Prior described his client as a religious man who wrote books about his faith, premonitions, good and evil, and the “coming of the end of things when his savior, in his mind, is going to come back.”

Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell called themselves “James and Elaina” and believed they were religious figures and had a system of rating people as “light” or “dark,” a prosecutor told jurors during Vallow Daybell’s trial.

The state accused the couple of using their “doomsday” religious beliefs to justify the killings. In particular, Daybell and Vallow Daybell exchanged texts about Tammy Daybell “being in limbo” and “being possessed by a spirit named Viola,” according to the indictment.

People close to the couple said they had been involved in strong religious ideologies.

In addition, Daybell was connected to a religious doomsday prepper website called “Preparing a People,” which described itself as a “series of lecture events focusing on self-reliance and personal preparation.” The publishers of the site said they decided to pull content featuring either Daybell or Vallow Daybell after the children’s disappearance.

Defense points to Vallow Daybell’s brother

Prior told the jury about Vallow Daybell’s now-deceased brother, Alex Cox, who died in December 2019, and his history of violence – including the shooting and killing of Vallow Daybell’s former husband, Charles Vallow, in July 2019.

The Maricopa County medical examiner in Arizona said Cox died of natural causes, CNN affiliate KPHO/KTVK reported.

“Alex Cox was Lori’s protector,” Prior said. “Alex Cox would do anything and everything to protect, aid and assist Lori Vallow … Whenever there was a problem or a threat to Lori Vallow, you will hear testimony that Alex Cox came to the rescue.”

DNA and forensics experts suggested Cox’s fingerprint was found on plastic wrapped around JJ’s body, Daybell’s defense attorney said.

No DNA or hair belonging to Chad Daybell was found with the children’s bodies, and the exact cause of Tammy Daybell’s death could not be determined, Prior said.

How it compares to Vallow Daybell’s trial

After Vallow Daybell’s indictment and not guilty plea in 2021, a judge ruled she was incompetent to stand trial, but she was deemed fit to proceed with trial after spending nearly a year in a mental hospital. Vallow Daybell has maintained her innocence.

When Vallow Daybell was sentenced last year, she denied having killed her children and cited religious texts and beliefs.

She said she had spoken to Jesus, her children and her husband’s wife after their deaths and said they were “happy and extremely busy” in heaven.

“Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case,” Vallow Daybell said. “Accidental deaths happen, suicides happen, fatal side effects from medications happen.”

Judge Steven W. Boyce said at the sentencing hearing: “I don’t believe that any God in any religion would want to have this happen.”

The judge said she justified the killings “by going down a bizarre, religious rabbit hole. And clearly you are still down there.”

Vallow Daybell has appealed her convictions to the state Supreme Court, with her legal team raising the issue of whether Vallow Daybell was mentally competent to stand trial.

CNN’s Sarah Dewberry contributed to this report.

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