Jury deliberations begin in trial of Idaho man charged in triple-murder case

Jury deliberations are underway in the trial of an Idaho man accused of killing his wife and his girlfriend’s two youngest children
FILE - Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing, Aug. 4, 2020, in St. Anthony, Idaho. Prosecutors will make their final arguments to jurors on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in the case of Daybell, who is accused of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two youngest children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool, File)

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FILE - Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing, Aug. 4, 2020, in St. Anthony, Idaho. Prosecutors will make their final arguments to jurors on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in the case of Daybell, who is accused of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two youngest children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool, File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jury deliberations began Wednesday in the case of an Idaho man charged with murdering his wife and his girlfriend's two youngest children in what prosecutors said was a callous scheme for money, power and sex.

“Three dead bodies ... and for what?” prosecutor Lindsey Blake told jurors in the trial of Chad Daybell. “Money, power and sex — that's what the defendant cared about.”

Daybell, 55, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connection with the 2019 deaths of Tammy Daybell, 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan. Prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Daybell is convicted.

But Daybell's defense attorney, John Prior, told jurors that there wasn't enough evidence to tie Daybell to the deaths. Prior said police looked only for things they could use against Daybell rather than the actual facts of the case — and he claimed that the children's late uncle, Alex Cox, committed the crimes.

“Alex Cox is a murderer, and he is not shy about shooting people,” Prior said, noting that Cox had previously killed JJ Vallow's father in Arizona and that the two kids were the only witnesses to that shooting.

He said Cox later tried to frame Daybell by burying the slain children in Daybell's yard in eastern Idaho.

“Folks, if there is reasonable doubt – and there is reasonable doubt – you must, according to the judge’s instructions, return a verdict of not guilty,” Prior said.

Last year, the children's mother and Daybell's girlfriend, Lori Vallow Daybell, received a life sentence without parole for the killings.

Prosecutors have called dozens of witnesses to bolster their claims that Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell conspired to kill the two children and Tammy Daybell because they wanted to get rid of any obstacles to their relationship and to obtain money from survivor benefits and life insurance. Prosecutors say the couple justified the killings by creating an apocalyptic belief system that people could be possessed by evil spirits and turned into “zombies,” and that the only way to save a possessed person’s soul was for the possessed body to die.

Blake said Wednesday that Daybell styled himself a leader of what he called “The Church of the Firstborn” and told Vallow Daybell and others that he could determine if someone had become a “zombie.” Daybell also claimed to be able to determine how close a person was to death by reading what he called their “death percentage,” Blake said.

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

“They would be labeled as ‘dark’ by Chad Daybell. Their ‘death percentage’ would drop. Then they would have to die,” she said.

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

Prior rejected the prosecution's descriptions of Daybell's beliefs. He described Daybell as a traditional member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a deeply religious man who talked about his spiritual beliefs every chance he could get.

“Whether you agree with light and dark, it doesn't matter. Whether you believe in death percentages, it doesn't matter,” Prior said. “He's entitled to his beliefs.”

Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell’s death in October 2019, raising suspicion among law enforcement officials. Tammy Daybell’s body was later exhumed, and officials say an autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation. Chad Daybell had told officials that Tammy Daybell had been sick, and that she died in her sleep.

Witnesses for both sides agreed that Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell were having an affair that began well before Tammy Daybell died, and that the two young children were missing for months before their remains were found buried in Chad Daybell's backyard.

The case began when Lori Vallow Daybell's then-estranged husband, Charles Vallow, was shot to death in July 2019 by Cox at his home in a Phoenix, Arizona suburb. Cox told police it was in self-defense and he was never charged.

Vallow Daybell, her kids JJ and Tylee, and Cox subsequently moved to eastern Idaho to be closer to Daybell, a self-published writer of doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on Mormon teachings. Soon, extended family reported the two children missing and law enforcement launched a search that spanned several states.

The children’s remains were found nearly a year later, buried on Chad Daybell’s property. Investigators later determined the children 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.

Vallow Daybell's niece, Melani Pawlowski, testified at trial that the couple believed that people could be possessed by evil spirits, rendering them “zombies.” Her testimony echoed that of Melanie Gibb, a friend of the couple who said during Vallow Daybell's trial that she heard Vallow Daybell call the two kids “zombies” before they vanished.

Defense witnesses included Dr. Kathy Raven, a forensic pathologist who reviewed reports from Tammy Daybell’s autopsy and said she believed the cause of death should have been classified as “undetermined.”

Chad Daybell’s son, Garth Daybell, told jurors he was home the night his mother died and that he heard no disturbance. He said he later felt like police officers and prosecutors were trying to pressure him to change his story, even threatening him with perjury charges at one point.

Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce told the jury panel that they would be sequestered during deliberations. Jurors deliberated for several hours before ending for the day and were to resume on Thursday.

If jurors find Daybell guilty of the murder or conspiracy charges, then they will be tasked with deciding if the death penalty should be imposed.

FILE - A boy looks at a memorial for Tylee Ryan and Joshua "JJ" Vallow in Rexburg, Idaho, on June 11, 2020. Prosecutors will make their final arguments to jurors on Wednesday, May 29, 2024, in the case of an Idaho man accused of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two youngest children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, File)

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