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Chad Daybell is sentenced to death in Idaho 'zombie murder' trial

Chad Daybell sits at the defense table after the jury's verdict in his murder trial was read at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday.
Kyle Green, Pool
Chad Daybell sits at the defense table after the jury's verdict in his murder trial was read at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho, on Thursday.

Updated June 01, 2024 at 15:03 PM ET

A jury in Boise, Idaho, sentenced Chad Daybell to death on Saturday for the murders of his former wife and his second wife's two youngest children.

As the judge handed down the death penalty, Daybell stayed still and showed no emotion.

The sentencing came two days after Daybell was found guilty of first-degree murder in the 2019 death of his former wife, Tammy Daybell, 49. He was also found guilty of conspiracy charges in the deaths of his second wife, Lori Vallow Daybell's two youngest children, Tylee Ryan and Joshua Jaxon "JJ" Vallow.

Tylee was nearly 17 when she and JJ, 7, were last seen alive in September 2019 — the same month they had moved with their mother from Chandler, Ariz., to Rexburg, Idaho.

Prosecutors had said they were seeking the death penalty for Daybell if he was convicted. In such cases, the jury hears from the two sides about any aggravating and mitigating circumstances, before deciding whether a death sentence is appropriate.

Prosecutors said Daybell concocted wild, religion-tinged fantasies about people becoming zombies to justify grisly crimes — with the goal, they said, of starting a new life with his second wife, Vallow Daybell, after having an affair with her. They also accused Daybell of insurance fraud in his former wife's death.

Prosecutor said texts show Tammy was "in the way"

Tammy Daybell, Chad's then-wife, was found dead in her home in October 2019. The librarian and educator was 49. A coroner did not initially perform an autopsy, saying a heart attack was the apparent cause of death. But suspicions later led Tammy's body to be exhumed, and the cause of death was changed to homicide: asphyxiation by suffocation.

In her closing argument this week, Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake said Chad Daybell influenced the coroner's initial ruling by fabricating details about Tammy's medical condition. It was all part of a plan, Blake said, for Chad to eliminate his wife so he could be with Lori Vallow. Months earlier, Vallow's brother had shot and killed her husband, Charles.

"A little over 24 hours from reporting his wife's death," Blake said in her closing argument, "Chad messages Lori: 'I know exactly how you feel. I'm feeling sad, but it isn't for the reason everyone thinks!'"

At the time, Vallow was on a trip to Hawaii. Blake said Vallow had grown frustrated with Daybell, sending him a text saying they couldn't be together until things changed.

"What needs to change?" the prosecutor asked the jurors. "Tammy's in the way."

Daybell responded to Vallow's message, Blake added, by saying that being with Vallow was the only thing that mattered to him.

"Lori manipulates Chad with sex," Blake said. "From the minute he met her, he wanted to be with her — and she knew it."

Two children were found buried on Daybell's property

Blake also described how Vallow began asking Daybell about possible plans involving Tylee and JJ.

"About a month after Charles' passing, Lori's asking Chad, 'Do you think there is a perfectly orchestrated plan to take the children?'" Blake said, displaying an image of Vallow's text message to Daybell in court.

"There is a plan being orchestrated for the children," Daybell replied in the exchange of messages. "I was shown last night how it fit together again."

The children's bodies were found in June 2020 and buried on property in Rexburg owned by Daybell. Horrific and heart-wrenching photos from the scene were shown to the jury early in the trial.

"Tylee's DNA was found on a pickax and a shovel that were in the defendant's garage," Blake told the jury as she reviewed the evidence in her closing argument on Wednesday.

Blake said Daybell used a numerical system to rate members of his and Vallow Daybell's family, with higher numbers reserved for people whom he assessed as being overtaken by dark forces.

"Chad said if someone's a zombie, the body has to die," Blake told the jury.

Chad Daybell also was charged with two counts of insurance fraud. Prosecutors say he maxed out Tammy's life insurance policy the month before she died, with himself as a beneficiary. Less than a month after Tammy's death, he married Lori Vallow in Hawaii.

Couple was driven by odd beliefs, witnesses said

Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell were indicted together on the murder charges in May 2021; their cases were split at Daybell's request.

Vallow Daybell was sentenced to multiple life terms in prison last year for the three deaths in Idaho.

Melanie Gibb, a confidante of Vallow Daybell's, testified last year that she saw her friend become increasingly involved with Chad Daybell, with the pair telling her that they had been married in a previous life. They spoke of being joined for eternity and leading 144,000 people in the end times, as described in the Book of Revelation, Gibb said.

Gibb said the couple also shared beliefs about people being overtaken by dark, evil energy. The criminal indictment cites text messages between the pair "regarding death percentages for Tammy" Daybell, as well as messages about her being in limbo, and Tammy "being possessed by a spirit named Viola."

In addition to the charges in Idaho, Vallow Daybell has been extradited to Arizona to face chargesrelated to her former husband's death in July 2019 and an attempt on the life of her niece's ex-husband.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.

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