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Chad Daybell’s ‘doomsday’ triple-murder fueled by ‘sex, money and power,’ Idaho prosecutor says

<i>John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register/AP via CNN Newsource</i><br/>
John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register/AP via CNN Newsource

By Ray Sanchez, CNN

(CNN) — Opening statements were delivered Wednesday in Chad Daybell’s “doomsday” triple murder trial in the deaths of his first wife and two stepchildren – a case Idaho prosecutors said was fueled by power, sex, money and apocalyptic spiritual beliefs.

Daybell has pleaded not guilty to murder and conspiracy charges stemming from the sensational homicide case featured in a Netflix true-crime documentary in 2022. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

On Wednesday, a prosecutor and a 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.”

grand jury in Idaho indicted Daybell and that woman, his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, on murder charges in the deaths of Vallow’s two children – 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow.

Daybell also is charged with the murder of his first wife, Tammy Daybell, who was initially believed to have died in her sleep. He remarried less than three weeks after her death in 2019.

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 Tammy Daybell.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, prosecutor Rob 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.

“Two dead children buried in the defendant Chad Daybell’s backyard in September of 2018,” 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.”

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 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.

“The evidence will show that this was a convenient narrative,” Wood told jurors. “This narrative gave them the pretext to remove people from this world for their own good.”

In his opening, defense attorney John 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.”

Prior 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.

Prior told the jury about Vallow Daybell’s 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, on July 11, 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.”

A forensic digital data expert will testify phone records showed Cox was present on Daybell’s property a number of times, Prior said.

Testimony from DNA and forensics experts will also show Cox’s fingerprint was found on plastic wrapped around JJ’s body, none of Chad Daybell’s DNA or hair was found with the children’s bodies and the cause of Tammy Daybell’s death could not be determined, Prior said.

“Don’t be distracted by speculation,” Prior said. “Don’t be distracted by guesses or assumptions or hunches. It all comes down to facts and evidence.”

Couple believed they were religious figures

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 at her trial.

The state has 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 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.

Vallow Daybell’s two children from a previous marriage were last seen on different days in September 2019.

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.

The disappearance of the children made national headlines.

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.

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 Camila Bernal, Chris Boyette, Andy Rose, Eric Levenson, Emma Tucker and Dakin Andone contributed to this report.

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