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Chad Daybell's "desire for sex, money and power" led to deaths of wife and Lori Vallow Daybell's children, prosecutor says

What to expect from Chad Daybell murder trial
What to expect from Chad Daybell murder trial as jury selection begins 02:36

The trial of Chad Daybell, who is charged with killing his wife and the two youngest children of his then-girlfriend, Lori Vallow Daybell, started Wednesday in Idaho in an unusual case rooted in extremist religious beliefs. The trial comes nearly a year after Vallow Daybell was convicted of murdering her children.

Prosecutor Rob Wood told jurors Wednesday morning that Daybell became obsessed with Vallow Daybell after they met at a religious conference in 2018. Wood said the pair had an affair and came to see Daybell's wife at the time, Tammy Daybell, and Vallow's children Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan as obstacles to their future who were sometimes called dark spirits or zombies.

"When he had a chance at what he considered his rightful destiny, he made sure that no person, no law would stand in his way," Wood said about Daybell. "His desire for sex, money and power led him to pursue those ambitions and this pursuit led to the deaths of his wife and Lori's two innocent children."

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 "JJ" and 16-year-old Tylee. Vallow Daybell received a life sentence without parole for the killings.

Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing
Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing on Aug. 4, 2020, in St. Anthony, Idaho. He and his wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, are charged with conspiring together to kill her two children and his late wife.  John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool

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 in Daybell's yard. Tylee's remains had been dismembered and burned, and JJ's remains were bound.

Defense attorney John Prior told jurors that an expert would testify that no DNA evidence or hair samples from Daybell were found with the children's remains. Prior also said there would be testimony that a fingerprint from Vallow Daybell's brother Alex Cox, who died in 2019, was found on plastic containing the remains of JJ, along with a hair sample from Vallow Daybell.

Prior told jurors that 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 Charles Vallow; he told police it was in self-defense.

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

Prior also said another expert would testify there was no indication that Tammy Daybell's death was a homicide. Chad Daybell initially told police she was battling an illness and died in her sleep, but an autopsy later determined she died of asphyxiation.

Some of Chad and Tammy Daybell's adult children will also testify, Prior said, about how Tammy Daybell was suffering from multiple maladies but that she refused to see a doctor, instead treating her illnesses with herbs and oils at home.

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

Daybell and Vallow Daybell were initially set to be tried together, but a judge severed their trials after Daybell waived his right to a speedy trial.

Prosecutors say the couple justified the three killings with doomsday beliefs, 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."

Prior presented a different picture to jurors — noting that Daybell was a religious person but suggesting that his belief in things like premonitions were fairly mainstream.

Who is Chad Daybell?

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 2019, 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.

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. Charles Vallow was shot to death by Cox in Arizona in July 2019.

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.

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

Tammy Daybell died in October 2019. Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell married just two weeks later, 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.

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