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.”
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.
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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 childrens' Social Security survivor benefits after they died.
Prosecutors have about two months to decide if they will seek the death penalty in the case.
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.
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.”