‘Doomsday Dad’ Chad Daybell’s Lawyer Blames Lori Vallow for Family Murders

Eight months after his second wife, Lori Vallow, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of her seven-year-old son “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan, as well as conspiring to kill his first wife, Tammy Daybell, Chad Daybell is standing trial in Idaho for the same crimes.

Daybell is charged with three counts of first-degree murder, three counts of conspiracy to commit murder, grand theft, and insurance fraud. If convicted of the murder charges, he faces the death penalty — a possibility dismissed by the court in Vallow’s case.

Daybell’s trial began Wednesday in a Boise courtroom presided over by Judge Steven Boyce, who also served as the judge in Vallow’s trial. In an opening statement broken down into “chapters,” prosecutor Rob Wood explained how the remains of Vallow’s two children had been found buried on Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho, and gave a timeline of the dizzying events that led to this grim discovery.

The saga began when Daybell and Vallow met in 2018 at a religious conference in St. George, Utah. Both belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Vallow — then an Arizona homemaker married to her fourth husband, Charles Vallow — was a fan of Daybell’s self-published books, which had gained a Mormon audience interested in their end-of-days visions. Daybell claimed to be able to see beyond the “veil” of reality due to his near-death experiences.

Enamored with Daybell’s prophetic aura and fringe beliefs, Vallow continued to see him, and the two struck up a close relationship based on his supposed glimpses of their past lives and messianic future. “In his thirst for sex, power and money, Chad created an alternate reality where they called themselves James and Elaina,” Wood told the jury on Wednesday, according to live updates from Nate Eaton of East Idaho News, mentioning that Daybell called Vallow an “exalted goddess.”

The pair also came to believe that they could see which people were “light,” or aligned with god, as opposed to “dark,” or even “zombies” — demonically possessed individuals who stood in the way of their spiritual and romantic ambitions. The list of “zombies” came to include their respective spouses as well as Vallow’s two youngest children (her surviving 27-year-old son, Colby Ryan, gave testimony at her trial). Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed her husband, Charles Vallow, in 2019, successfully claiming self-defense, and died himself later that year of natural causes. Daybell’s wife, Tammy, died in her bed months after the killing of Charles Vallow, with a delayed autopsy ultimately finding that she had been asphyxiated. “Tammy Daybell, a vivacious, happy mother, was another individual labeled as a dark spirit to be removed,” Wood remarked in his opening statement. He noted that Daybell and Vallow married in Hawaii just 17 days after Tammy was discovered dead.

However, it was the disappearance of children JJ and Tylee around this time that ultimately drew national attention to this shocking case. Concerned relatives were unable to ascertain their welfare or whereabouts while Daybell and Vallow lived alone in Hawaii, reportedly on the life insurance money Daybell received after his wife’s death. In early 2020, Vallow was arrested and extradited to Idaho for nonsupport and desertion of her children, while Daybell was not arrested until that summer, when investigators found JJ and Tylee in shallow graves at his ranch house.

Wood told the jury on Wednesday that during the state’s lengthy case against Daybell, they would hear “many of this defendant’s own words” and “multiple texts” he and Vallow sent back and forth, seeming to imply that Daybell’s communications would confirm his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But Daybell’s defense attorney, John Prior, sought in his opening statement to paint him as a man in thrall to an attractive, voracious, and “very sexual” woman — almost helpless but to carry out her bidding.

“This beautifully stunning woman named Lori Vallow comes up and she starts giving him a lot of attention,” Prior said of the couple’s first meeting at the religious convention. “She pursued him. She encouraged him. She went so far as to go behind the booth and help him in selling his books.” Prior also described Vallow’s first few marriages as “short-lived” and stormy in contrast to Daybell’s relatively stable family life. He further claimed that there was no DNA evidence from Daybell on JJ or Tylee. As for the death of Tammy, he said the jury would learn that she used natural remedies for a number of health issues and “would refuse to see a doctor.”

Reporter Leah Sottile, whose book When the Moon Turns to Blood details how Daybell and Vallow fell into a twisted belief system of their own making, was in attendance at court. Sottile tweeted that Prior’s strategy of deflecting blame to the already convicted and sentenced Vallow was “misogynistic” and an attempt to convince members of the jury that Daybell had been “overtaken by a Jezebel figure like Vallow — a woman of failed marriages, irresistible sexuality.” She also noted the irony of this alongside Prior’s argument that Tammy was primarily responsible for her husband’s publishing business: “a man from a very patriarchal faith saying the women around him controlled him.”

But the prosecution will likely argue that Vallow was entranced by Daybell’s talk of their prominent roles in some kind of hidden holy war, and it will take serious work to convince a jury that influence primarily flowed the other way. Vallow’s own defense team tried to cast Daybell as the criminal mastermind of the couple it didn’t prevent her conviction. If this turns out to be nothing more than the mirror version of that trial, Daybell’s chances of avoiding death row may be thin.