Opening statements in Chad Daybell's 'doomsday' triple-murder trial begin in Idaho

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

ByRay Sanchez, CNN
Wednesday, April 10, 2024
Opening statements in Chad Daybell's trial begin in Idaho
A grand jury in Idaho indicted Daybell and his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, on murder charges in the deaths of Vallow's two children

BOSIE, Idaho -- Opening statements began 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 triple homicide case featured in a Netflix true-crime documentary in 2022. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

A grand jury in Idaho indicted Daybell and 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's two children from a previous marriage were last seen on different days in September 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.

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

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.

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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.

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.

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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."

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