Jury deliberating whether Daybell orchestrated killings or was set up by new wife and her brother

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BOISE — Jurors will continue deliberating whether Chad Daybell is guilty of three killings Thursday morning after listening to a full day of closing arguments Wednesday and 30 days of testimony.

The case was handed to the jury at 4:31 p.m. after five jurors were chosen as alternates. The remaining 12 deliberated for about two hours before taking a break until 8 a.m. Thursday morning.

During closing arguments earlier in the day, Fremont County prosecutor Lindsey Blake told jurors Chad Daybell cared most about money, power and sex. She began her wrap-up of the case by replaying a call from Lori Vallow Daybell, who was in jail, to her husband Chad Daybell on the day the children's bodies were found in his Salem, Idaho backyard.

When Lori Daybell asked if he was OK, Chad Daybell responded: "No. They're searching the property."

She also shared a recording of an earlier call when the couple referred to a "project." Chad Daybell tells Lori Daybell he had "absolute confidence" things will work out, calling it a "marvelous plan." Blake said the Daybells' plan was to remove their earthly obstacles — her children and his then-wife — and find freedom.

"Three dead bodies on the defendant Chad Daybell's property … two of them children — his mistress' kids. Joshua Jackson Vallow and Tylee Ryan were found buried in the defendant's backyard. Tammy Daybell was found dead in their marital bed. Money, power and sex. That's what the defendant cared about," Blake said.

Blake went through a timeline of the case from Oct. 26, 2018, when then-Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell met. Both had spouses who were alive and well, until both of their spouses were dead and the remains of Lori Daybell's children were discovered.

She emphasized how witnesses throughout the trial testified about how Lori Daybell and those people close to her would always seek their guidance and information from Chad Daybell.

"Chad is the one that is a self-proclaimed visionary," Blake told the jury Wednesday, adding that he was the self-appointed leader or "gatherer" of his Church of the Firstborn.

She said Chad Daybell is the one who declared that Charles Vallow, Lori Daybell's husband, was "dark" and possessed by a demon. He taught that if there was an evil entity in a body, that body would need to die. She said Charles Vallow was shot and killed "because he was dark." After the killings, Blake said Lori and Chad Daybell, along with Lori Daybell's brother Alex Cox, showed no signs of remorse or grief.

Tylee and JJ's deaths

Blake said Lori Daybell moved with her two children to Idaho after Chad Daybell had already declared that the children were "dark."

"If someone's dark and they're an earthly obstacle — the body has to die. Knowing that, Lori still brought her children to Idaho, closer to Chad Daybell," Blake said.

She also said Lori Daybell asked Chad Daybell to rate the "death percentages" for her children on multiple occasions. Chad Daybell responded with numbers for each of them and, at one point, he claimed he was turning Tylee's pain up and encouraging 7-year-old JJ to follow someone into the light.

"Tylee is a 16-year-old girl. He's turning the pain up to 10," Blake emphasized.

She said Cox trusted Chad Daybell 100%, according to witnesses at the trial, and she reminded jurors about his location history the mornings after Tylee and JJ were last seen. Both times, there were cellphone data location points near where the children's bodies were eventually found.

"Chad labeled her children dark. Their bodies were buried on his property, hidden from those looking for them. With them gone, he could be with Lori. Her time was completely free for him," Blake said.

She also said that had those bodies not have been found, Lori Daybell would continue receiving Social Security checks for the children.

Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake gives closing arguments in the murder trial for Chad Daybell on Wednesday.
Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake gives closing arguments in the murder trial for Chad Daybell on Wednesday. (Photo: Judge Steven W. Boyce via YouTube)

Tammy Daybell's death

Chad Daybell told Lori Daybell in a text that it was "encouraging" his wife's death percentage "has fallen steadily," the prosecutor said. Afterward, Chad Daybell said his wife had some kind of spirit in her, texting: "Not fully sure of the timing for removal, but once her actions verify the differences, I don't want to wait."

Chad Daybell shook his head "no" after Blake emphasized that Tammy's body was dark, that she had to die and he did not want to wait. He listened attentively for most of the presentation, showing little emotion, but shook his head "no" again later when Blake said he had taught "dark people, possessed people (that) the body has to die."

Blake said Cox's cellphone was at a church near the Daybell home for about half an hour on the night Tammy Daybell was killed.

She said Chad Daybell's story of his wife's death was inconsistent with emergency responders and friends at his home the morning of his wife's death and at the funeral. Although he had said Tammy Daybell had been having fainting spells, on a life insurance claim form, he wrote her health first became impaired on the day before her death.

A little over 24 hours after his wife's death, Chad Daybell sent a message to Lori Daybell that said: "I'm feeling sad, but it isn't for the reason everyone thinks!"

Chad and Lori Daybell give no answers

Blake said Chad and Lori Daybell were married in Hawaii on Nov. 5, 2019, but their "bliss didn't last long" because JJ's grandmother reported the boy as missing later that month.

When officers arrived at Lori Daybell's home to search for him, she said the woman immediately told police lies about how well the couple knew each other and where JJ was. Blake said Chad and Lori Daybell consistently told others that the children's disappearance was all a misunderstanding that would be cleared up, but neither of provided any information about where the kids were before their bodies were eventually found in June 2020.

While Lori Daybell said JJ was "safe and he's happy," the young boy was actually found "discarded in Chad Daybell's backyard" months later, she said.

"They had money, power, sex, and no obstacles and, specifically, no earthy relatives, no encumbrances. However, they left a wake of destruction and tears for those that had trusted them," Blake said.

She said in December of 2019, while Tammy Daybell's autopsy was being conducted, the children were missing, Cox had just died of natural causes, Chad and Lori Daybell were living together in Hawaii.

Blake told jurors that Chad Daybell didn't have to personally and physically cause the deaths in order to be found guilty of first-degree murder, but he is guilty if they conclude that he "advised, assisted, encouraged, commanded or coerced" the deaths to occur.

Defense attorney John Prior gives his closing argument during Chad Daybell's murder trial on Wednesday.
Defense attorney John Prior gives his closing argument during Chad Daybell's murder trial on Wednesday. (Photo: Judge Steven W. Boyce via YouTube)

Defense says Chad Daybell was the 'next victim'

In his closing arguments, defense attorney John Prior said Lori Daybell directed her friends how to respond to police and said "the dupe on Chad Daybell" was that the kids were fine, and it would all be cleared up.

"Chad didn't know where the kids were until that fateful day on June 9 when they're discovered on his property," Prior said.

He said until then, only Lori Daybell knew what had been going on.

"(Chad Daybell) is saying the kids are safe because Lori told them the kids are safe. He's saying there's a simple solution because this was a custody fight," Prior said.

He said Cox had the motive, and that he had killed Tylee and JJ, who had "become expendable" after being witnesses to the murder of Charles Vallow.

"The one thing that can cause Alex Cox to spend the rest of his life, or far worse, in Arizona is a 16-year-old girl and an autistic 7-year-old little boy," Prior said. "Alex Cox had a motive."

He emphasized that Chad Daybell's cellphone location was not found at his property while Cox was there, and said he was not there when "JJ's body was dumped in the ground by Alex Cox." He also said it would have taken a bonfire to burn Tylee's body, and no neighbors reported seeing one and not all of her body was found.

"There was no bonfire, it wasn't there. … I can't prove to you where Alex Cox burned this body, I don't know," Prior said.

Prior also said Chad Daybell — "husband No. 5" — was the next victim of Lori Daybell's desire for money. He claimed Chad Daybell was the target of an attempted shooting by Cox weeks before Tammy Daybell's death.

"Alex Cox is a murderer, and he is not shy about shooting people. He shot at Brandon Boudreaux, he murdered Charles Vallow. Chad Daybell was next, and to make the plan nice and neat, let's bury the bodies on Chad Daybell's property," Prior said.

Prior said Blake "insinuated" that the plan discussed by Chad and Lori Daybell in text messages was to kill the kids, but really the plan was to gather the sick and impoverished to Rexburg.

Prior said multiple times that Chad Daybell had a right to believe what he wants to believe. He said Chad Daybell was a "pot stirrer" who talked about uncomfortable religious things and that made him a target.

He began and ended his arguments by saying that the burden is on prosecutors to prove that Chad Daybell is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, and that there is reasonable doubt.

"If you have doubt about what happened here, the verdict has to be not guilty. That's what the law says," Prior said.

Confirmation bias

Prior said jurors have been shown a "handful" of text messages about dark spirits, about a plan and about references to light and dark ratings, but were not shown thousands of other messages related to the case.

"You can always find a text message or a message of some kind that may be slanted, or turned in a way to benefit one position or another," Prior said.

The defense attorney claimed investigators were influenced by confirmation bias. He emphasized that the man who performed the autopsy on Tammy Daybell did not reach out to her children to ask about her health. He said the doctor and the officers who had testified picked a target, and looked only for proof that he was guilty.

"These officers failed this investigation. They absolutely failed in their investigation looking up the facts of this case," Prior said.

Prior said Melanie Gibb, who was staying at Lori Daybell's apartment when investigators believe JJ was killed, was actually the source of the unusual religious beliefs. He said she "ironically" left Lori Daybell's home with her boyfriend David Warwick about 10 minutes after Cox left for Chad Daybell's property, and claimed they actually went to help bury the 7-year-old's body.

Prior said the plastic bags JJ was wrapped in had a handprint from Cox and a hair from Lori Daybell. He also said there were blond hairs that did not belong to Lori Daybell, and Prior claimed that hair belongs to Gibb, although it was not tested.

Prior argued that Tammy Daybell's death "was not homicide." He said it would have been impossible for Chad Daybell to smother or asphyxiate her the way the prosecutors claimed, as it would require "600 pounds" of pressure.

Chad Daybell listens as his attorney, John Prior, presents closing arguments in his murder trial on Wednesday.
Chad Daybell listens as his attorney, John Prior, presents closing arguments in his murder trial on Wednesday. (Photo: Judge Steven W. Boyce, via YouTube.)

Prosecutors ask jurors to focus on facts

Blake contested multiple statements made by Chad Daybell during her rebuttal closing argument, encouraging jurors to consider the facts and "go where the evidence leads."

She said Chad Daybell didn't believe the missing children were safe. He was heard speaking in the past tense when someone asked where Tylee was, saying she "didn't like me." Blake also said Chad Daybell knew that JJ wasn't with his grandmother, yet told others that he was.

She also said there was no evidence to indicate that Gibb went to the Daybell home.

The prosecutor also told jurors that while Chad Daybell is not implicated in Charles Vallow's death, he was killed 10 days after he threatened that he was going to confront Tammy Daybell about the affair Chad and Lori Daybell were having. She also said Chad Daybell was texting with Lori Daybell just before Vallow was killed, and throughout that day.

To address the claim that Cox was the only killer, Blake replayed a clip from a religious "blessing" Chad Daybell gave to Cox in November 2019. He called Cox a "defender" for Lori Daybell, saying he had earned the privilege of being part of the Church of the Firstborn.

"You've already assisted us in ways that can never be repaid. And you will continue to do so," Chad Daybell told Cox in the blessing.

Chad Daybell is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell. He is also charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of each of the victims, grand theft and two counts of insurance fraud.

If Chad Daybell is found guilty, the same jury would hear testimony during a penalty phase, to determine whether he should receive the death penalty. Lori Daybell was found guilty of her role in a trial last year and was given five sentences of life in prison without parole.

Tuesday's testimony:


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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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