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Jury starts deliberations in case of Chad Daybell, accused of murder in 3 deaths

An Idaho jury has started deliberating in the case of Chad Daybell, who is accused in the deaths of his first wife, Tammy Daybell, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow and Tylee Ryan, the children of his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell.

The trial, which started nearly two months ago, comes after Vallow Daybell’s July 2023 conviction of murder, conspiracy and theft. She was sentenced to life in prison without parole in the case. Chad Daybell, however, could face the death penalty if convicted.

Chad Daybell, an author of apocalyptic fiction who owned a publishing company focused on religious works, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including first-degree murder in the deaths of Tammy Daybell, JJ and Tylee; conspiracy to murder in the deaths of JJ and Tylee, which also includes conspiracy to commit grand theft by deception; conspiracy to commit murder as well as two counts of insurance fraud in the death of Tammy Daybell.

The case first came to national attention after 7-year-old JJ’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock, reported him missing in November 2019. Investigators realized that 16-year-old Tylee had also not been seen since September 2019.

Tammy Daybell, 49, died in October 2019, and Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell married two weeks later.   The children’s bodies were found on the Daybell property months later.

Testimony in both Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell’s trials highlighted the couple’s fringe religious beliefs, which focused on doomsday and divided people into “dark” and “light” spirits. The prosecution in Daybell’s case called more than 60 witnesses and the defense called 11, including two of his five adult children. Chad Daybell’s children told “48 Hours” in 2021 they believe their father is innocent.

Chad Daybell did not testify in his own defense.

Prosecutor Lindsey Blake highlighted in her closing argument Chad Daybell’s assessment of whether people — including Tylee and JJ, and other children — were dark and light, and discussed Chad Daybell’s belief in his ability to discern what was described as someone’s “death percentage,” or how close a given person was to death. She also noted that the couple believed an evil spirit could possess someone, turning them into a “zombie.”

“The problem was that eventually, Chad and Lori taught that if a person was possessed, it meant the body had to die. The individual, the actual spirit of that body, was gone. An evil entity was in that body, and in order to set the person free, the body had to die,” she said.

Witnesses testified to the couple’s affair and the prosecution introduced excerpts from a story written by Chad Daybell about “James” and “Elena,” religious figures in a romantic relationship that paralleled Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell’s. The pair referred to themselves as James and Elena, and claimed to have been together in past lives.

Two of Chad Daybell’s children, Emma Murray and Garth Daybell, testified for the defense. Both described their father’s beliefs, with Garth Daybell calling them “traditional” — Daybell was a longtime member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though CourtTV reported he had been excommunicated — and said their mother had health problems.

Defense attorney John Prior argued in his closing that Chad Daybell is entitled to his religious beliefs and that none of the text messages introduced as evidence establish a conspiracy.

“Chad was the target. This author writes about uncomfortable things. He talks about uncomfortable things, he discusses topics that maybe make people uncomfortable… but you know what? He has every right to talk about it, and you cannot hold it against him because you don’t like the topic or you don’t agree with the topic or you don’t even understand the topic,” Prior said.

Vallow Daybell was extradited to Arizona after her sentencing, where she faces separate charges, including conspiracy to commit murder in the July 2019 death of her husband, Charles Vallow, who was shot by Cox.

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