BOISE, ID (AP) — Chad Daybell made his first appearance in Idaho court Wednesday on three murder charges in connection with the deaths of his late wife and his new wife's two children.
Meanwhile, the mother of the two slain children, Lori Vallow Daybell, had her first appearance on murder charges postponed because of unnamed “exigent circumstances.”
A grand jury in Idaho indicted Lori Vallow and her husband, Chad Daybell on murder charges in the deaths of Vallow's children, Tylee and Joshua.
The Daybells are at the center of a tangled case that involve several suspicious deaths as well as a bizarre apocalyptic religious belief that prosecutors claim the couple designed to justify the murders of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 17-year-old Tylee Ryan and 49-year-old Tammy Daybell.
During Wednesday's court appearance in Fremont County, 7th District Judge Faren Eddins explained to Chad Daybell the penalties he could face if convicted of any of the eight charges he is facing under a new indictment released earlier this week. Both Lori and Chad Daybell could face the death penalty or life in prison if they are convicted of murder or conspiring to murder the victims in the case.
Chad Daybell is charged with three counts each of first-degree murder and conspiring to commit murder and grand theft by deception, as well as two additional counts of insurance fraud in connection with the life insurance policies on his late wife.
Lori Daybell is charged with three counts of conspiring to commit murder and grand theft by deception, as well as two counts of murder in connection with the deaths of her children. Lori Daybell is also charged with two counts of grand theft because prosecutors say she collected her children's Social Security survivor benefits after they died.
Grandparents react to indictment
Kay and Larry Woodcock, JJ's biological grandparents, say it has been a rollercoaster of emotions. "Yesterday was not a good day in the fact that it was JJ's birthday and he's not here with us--9 years old. I can only imagine what he would be like today at 9 years old. It was a hard day for us but on the other hand, it was a wonderful day that people are finally being held absolutely accountable for their misdeeds," said Larry.
Kay and Larry met with the Idaho state prosecutors before the indictment was publicly announced. "As he read them, it was like, I don't know, it's like the world just stopped and it's like, OK, this is what we've been wanting to hear all this time and yet I couldn't tell you what the charges were once he walked out of the room," Kay said.
Prosecutors have about two months to decide if they will seek the death penalty in the case. "They won't come out with it right now but they will if they're going to do it, which we feel they will. It will be within 60 days. We're OK. We've waited this long for this." Kay said. "Sixty days is nothing at this point," added Larry. "If it takes a year to get to trial, OK. They're in jail. They're never going to leave jail, so OK. Whatever," Kay said.
The indictment paperwork noted that Lori, Chad, Alex Cox--Lori's brother--and other co-conspirators could be involved in these crimes. "I want the truth out of this. If these peripheral people were involved in it and knew of that, then I want them to pay the price also," Larry said. "I've said from the beginning, there's (sic) more people involved in this than just Chad and just Lori, by far, and if you're going to convict those two, then there's other people that need to be brought to account. If you played a part in this and you could've stopped it at any time--pick up the phone, call the police, whatever you have to do--you should've done it. And right now, if you did it, and you're not paying the price for it, I want you to pay that price in the future."
While Lori and Chad are facing these new charges, Kay and Larry say they're not done seeking justice. "Next on our radar is Chandler, Arizona for Charles (Vallow). We've got three down, one to go. And he's next," Kay said.
Charles Vallow is Kay's brother, JJ's adoptive father, and Lori's previous husband. He was shot and killed by Lori's brother, Alex, in Chandler in July 2019. At the time, Alex claimed self-defense and never faced any charges for his death. Alex died in December 2019. "We've climbed halfway up one mountain. We're fixing to climb another one. Once we get retribution from Charles, things will be better," Larry said.
The Daybells have already been in jail for several months, charged earlier with conspiring to destroy evidence. They have pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges and have not yet had a chance to enter a plea in the new murder case.
Timeline of events
The complex case began in 2018, according to the indictment on murder charges, when Chad and Lori Daybell — both still married to other people — began espousing their apocalyptic system of religious belief.
A family friend earlier testified that the couple believed a person's soul could be sent to “limbo,” allowing an evil spirit to take over their body on earth. The friend, Melanie Gibbs, said Lori Daybell referred to those supposedly possessed bodies as “zombies,” and that the couple claimed the only way to free the person's soul from “limbo” was to kill their earthly body.
In 2019, Lori Daybell's then-husband, Charles Vallow, was seeking a divorce, writing in court documents that she believed she had become a god-like figure who was responsible for ushering in the biblical end times.
But the divorce never happened because Lori Daybell's brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Charles Vallow in suburban Phoenix. Cox claimed self-defense and charges were never filed. Cox himself died several months later of a blood clot in his lungs.
After the shooting, Lori Daybell and her two youngest children moved to Idaho, where Chad Daybell lived. Chad Daybell ran a small publishing company with his wife, Tammy Daybell, and released several of his own books — doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Tammy Daybell died in October 2019, and her obituary said she died in her sleep of natural causes. But authorities grew suspicious when Chad Daybell married Lori Daybell just two weeks later, and they had Tammy Daybell's body exhumed.
Police began searching for the children, JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan, in November after extended family members raised concerns that the children were missing. Police say the Daybells lied to investigators about their whereabouts before quietly leaving Idaho. They were found in Hawaii months later, without the children.
The children's bodies were found last June, buried on Chad Daybell's property in eastern Idaho.
Tylee Ryan's aunt, Annie Cushing, said news of the murder charges was “surreal.” The announcement was made on what would have been JJ Vallow's ninth birthday.
“I've pictured this day so many times in my head as I've been waiting for some indication that more serious charges were coming,” Cushing told EastIdahoNews.com in an interview. “You feel this tugging at you because you don't want to be crushed. But at the same time I was like, 'Is this it?' ”
Tammy Daybell's parents and siblings also released a statement in response to the murder charges, asking for privacy as they grieve.
“We'd especially ask that this consideration be extended to our dearest Tammy's children and grandchildren. We want their lives to retain as much peace, normalcy and remembrance of their mother/grandmother as possible,” the family wrote. “No one knows how to handle this perfectly. We ask that we all be given the space to continue to honor and grieve our loved one the best we can.”