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In triple-murder trial, prosecutor says Chad Daybell built ‘alternate reality’ to gain sex and money

Everyone in the courtroom stands for the jury to enter the Chad Daybell trial on April 10.
Everyone in the courtroom stands for the jury to enter the Chad Daybell trial in Boise on April 10.

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho man charged with three murders in an unusual doomsday-focused case crafted an alternate reality so that he could fulfill “his desire for sex, money and power,” a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday morning.

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

Chad Daybell, 55, is facing charges of first degree murder, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Tammy Daybell, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan. Last year, their mother, Vallow Daybell, received a life sentence without parole for the killings.

Prosecutors say the couple justified the three killings by creating a detailed and apocalyptic belief system, part of an elaborate scheme to eliminate any obstacles to their relationship and to obtain money from survivor benefits and life insurance. Vallow Daybell referred to her two youngest kids as zombies, one friend testified during her trial.

“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.”

Daybell's defense attorney John Prior presented a different picture to jurors — noting that Chad Daybell was a religious person but suggesting that his belief in things like premonitions were fairly mainstream. Prior also explained to jurors that Lori Vallow Daybell's brother, Alex Cox, had a violent history. He had previously been convicted of attacking Vallow Daybell's third husband, and he shot and killed her fourth husband.

“Whenever there was a problem with Lori Vallow, Alex Cox ran to the rescue,” Prior said in opening statements.

Daybell's attorney also argued that his client lived a normal, faith-focused life before he met Lori Vallow Daybell, who he said showered Daybell with attention. His legal team described her as a "beautiful, vivacious person” who drew Daybell into an extramarital relationship.

Daybell's attorney also said he would present several experts in DNA, forensics and pathology who would testify that it's impossible to determine what caused Tammy Daybell's death and that none of Chad Daybell's DNA was found with the children's bodies. Some of Chad and Tammy Daybell's adult children will also testify, Prior said, about how Tammy Daybell was suffering from a number of maladies but that she refused to see a doctor, instead treating her illnesses with herbs and oils at home.

“What's important are facts and evidence,” Prior told the jury. “Don't be distracted by speculation, don't be distracted by guesses or suspicions or hunches. It all comes down to facts and evidence.”

The prosecutor, Wood, also described the basics of the case against Daybell, structuring his presentation for jurors like chapters in a book — an apparent reference to the defendant's previous work as an author. Chad Daybell was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and self-published fiction loosely based on its teachings.

In fall 2019, prosecutors say he tried to fraudulently collect on his late wife's life insurance policy, and Vallow Daybell continued to collect both children's social security benefits after they died.

Chad Daybell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the trial is expected to take more than two months. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if Daybell is convicted. Daybell's defense attorney John Prior did not return a phone message requesting comment. A judge has issued a gag order in the case, barring attorneys from talking to the media until the trial is over.

The grim story began in the fall of 2019, when extended family members reported the two children missing and law enforcement officials launched a search that spanned several states. The subsequent investigation took several unexpected turns.

Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell were having an affair when both of their spouses died unexpectedly, investigators said. Vallow Daybell’s husband was shot to death by her brother Alex Cox in Arizona in July 2019; the brother told police it was in self-defense.

Wood told jurors that the evidence in the case will show that Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell manipulated Cox into doing their bidding by promising him spiritual rewards.

Several months later, in October 2019, Tammy Daybell died. Chad Daybell initially told police she was battling an illness and died in her sleep, but an autopsy later determined she died of asphyxiation. Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell died, surprising family members and drawing suspicion from authorities.

Friends later told detectives that Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell believed they had been reincarnated and were tasked with gathering people before a biblical apocalypse.

Wood said Chad Daybell described both children as being possessed before they disappeared, and that he repeatedly predicted to friends that Tammy Daybell would soon die.

The bodies of the children were eventually found buried on Chad Daybell's property. Tylee Ryan's remains had been dismembered and burned, and JJ's remains were bound.

Here’s a look at some of the people connected to the case.


Chad Daybell, 55, was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and self-published fiction loosely based on its teachings. He married Tammy Daybell in 1990. They had five kids and a home in rural southeastern Idaho.

Prosecutors say he met Vallow-Daybell at a conference in Utah in 2018. They became a couple, insisting they had been married in a past life, police said. They led a group of friends in trying to cast out evil spirits by praying and doing what they called “energy work,” prosecutors said.

In some cases, they claimed, a person could become a “zombie,” and the only way to banish a zombie was to kill the person, friends said. One friend told police she heard Vallow-Daybell call the children zombies before they disappeared.

In October 2019, Daybell reportedly told authorities that his wife had been battling a respiratory infection and died in her sleep. The death was initially attributed to natural causes, but authorities became suspicious when Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow-Daybell just two weeks later.

Tammy Daybell’s body was exhumed and an autopsy showed she died of asphyxiation.


Lori Vallow-Daybell, 50, is a beautician by trade, a mother of three and a wife — five times over. She was convicted last year of murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole. She is also facing charges in Arizona related to the 2019 death of her fourth husband.

Lori Vallow-Daybell

Vallow-Daybell’s first marriage, to a high school sweetheart when she was 19, ended quickly. She married again in her early 20s and had a son. In 2001, Vallow-Daybell married again, this time to a man named Joseph Ryan. The couple had a daughter named Tylee in 2002, but divorced a few years later. Ryan later died in his home of a suspected heart attack.

After her father’s death, Tylee received social security survivor benefits — which Vallow-Daybell collected herself after Tylee disappeared in 2019.

During her sentencing, Vallow-Daybell gave a long statement saying that “accidental deaths happen.” She claimed the spirits of the three victims visited her regularly and were all happy in the “spirit world.”

In summer 2019, after her fourth husband was shot to death by her brother, Vallow-Daybell moved with her two youngest kids to southeastern Idaho, where she could be closer to Chad Daybell. That September, the children disappeared, and Chad and Tammy Daybell applied to increase Tammy Daybell’s life insurance benefit, prosecutors said.

Tammy Daybell died the next month.

The children’s bodies were found the following year, buried in Chad Daybell’s yard.


Charles Vallow, a member of the LDS church, entered the picture several months after Vallow-Daybell and Joseph Ryan divorced. Vallow-Daybell joined the LDS church and the two married in 2006. They later adopted Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow.

Charles Vallow

By 2019, the marriage had soured. Charles Vallow filed for divorce, contending in court papers that Vallow-Daybell believed herself to be a deity tasked with helping to usher in the Biblical apocalypse.

The two were estranged but still married when Vallow-Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Charles Vallow outside his suburban Phoenix home.

Cox told police the shooting was in self defense and was never charged in the case. Shortly after Charles’ death, Vallow-Daybell moved to eastern Idaho with her brother and two children.


Both Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow-Daybell are accused of conspiring with Vallow-Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, in the deaths. But Cox was never charged — he died suddenly in December 2019.

Alex Cox of the Phoenix area died in December, a few months after he fatally shot his sister's estranged husband in what he said was self-defense. Cox's sister is Lori Vallow, who is being detained in Idaho on charges related to the disappearance of her two children.

Autopsy and toxicology reports showed Cox died of a pulmonary blood clot, and law enforcement officials have said Cox’s death is believed to be from natural causes.

During Vallow-Daybell’s trial, prosecutors presented several witnesses and pieces of evidence that appeared to tie Cox to the deaths, including GPS data on Cox’s phone that was traced to the places where the children’s bodies were found.

Prosecutors say Cox also tried to shoot Tammy Daybell in October 2019.

Friends of Cox and Vallow-Daybell testified last year that the siblings were very close, and that Cox believed he was put on Earth to serve as Vallow-Daybell’s “protector.”

Cox also believed people could be possessed and turn into zombies, his wife, Zulema Pastenes, testified. When Cox learned Tammy Daybell’s body was being exhumed, he said he was the “fall guy” but wouldn’t elaborate, Pastenes said. He died the next day.

You can view a timeline of events and all our past stories on Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow-Daybell HERE.

Article Topic Follows: Vallow-Daybell Coverage

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