Doomsday Plot: Idaho Jury Convicts Chad Daybell of Killing Wife and Girlfriend’s 2 Children

Doomsday Plot: Idaho Jury Convicts Chad Daybell of Killing Wife and Girlfriend’s 2 Children
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 May 30, 2024. (Kyle Green/Pool/AP Photo)

BOISE, Idaho—An Idaho man was convicted Thursday of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two youngest kids in a strange triple murder case that included claims of apocalyptic prophesies, zombie children, and illicit affairs.

Jurors deliberated just six hours before finding Chad Daybell guilty, capping a case that began in 2019 and spanned at least four states. Mr. Daybell, standing and wearing a long-sleeve dress shirt, was stoic as the verdicts were read.

Now jurors will be tasked with deciding if Mr. Daybell, 55, should die for the murders of Tammy Daybell, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow. The nearly two-month trial’s penalty phase resumes Friday.

“Everything was addressed, every item was ‘guilty,’ and for that, I’m happy,” JJ’s grandfather Larry Woodcock told The Associated Press. “I’m still sad for the loss—there were four lives lost in this for no purpose, no reason—but my wife and I are just so satisfied with the verdict.”

The childrens’ mother, Lori Vallow Daybell, was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the same conspiracy and murder charges last year. She married Chad Daybell just two weeks after Tammy Daybell was killed. She’s now awaiting trial in Arizona, charged with murder in connection with the shooting death of her fourth husband, Charles Vallow. Charles Vallow was JJ’s father.

The judge in the case has issued a gag order prohibiting attorneys on both sides from talking to the media until the trial is complete.

The case drew widespread media attention, and the judge moved the trial from the rural Idaho community where the killings occurred to Boise in an effort to ensure a fair and impartial jury.

In the penalty phase, prosecutors will attempt to show that the crimes merit a death sentence because they were especially depraved, heinous, or cruel or that they meet one of other “aggravating factors” detailed in state law. Mr. Daybell’s defense, meanwhile, will try to provide the jury with mitigating circumstances to show a lighter sentence is more appropriate.

The investigation began five years ago, after JJ’s grandparents Kay and Larry Woodcock became concerned that Ms. Vallow Daybell was refusing to let them have phone calls with the boy. Though they lived in different states, JJ and his grandparents had always been close, sharing regular video calls since he was about three years old. JJ was very bright and also autistic, Mr. Woodcock said, and whenever he ran out of things to say he’d tell them, “Mawmaw, Pawpaw, I don’t know.’”

NTD Photo
Larry Woodcock, gets a hug after the verdict in the Chad Daybell murder trial was read at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho on May 30, 2024. (Kyle Green/Pool/AP Photo)

“In the last couple of years of his life, he was developing his wit and his personality. If there’s anything that I miss, it’s his wit,” Mr. Woodcock said. “There’s not a day that goes by now that my wife and I don’t turn to each other and say, ‘Mawmaw, I don’t know,’ or ‘Pawpaw, I don’t know.’”

In 2019, Ms. Woodcock asked police to check on the child. Investigators soon realized both children were missing, and a multistate search ensued. The investigation soon took several unexpected turns.

Ms. Vallow Daybell and Mr. Daybell were having an affair when both of their spouses died unexpectedly, investigators said. Ms. Vallow Daybell’s husband, Charles, was shot to death by her brother Alex Cox in Arizona in July 2019; the brother told police it was in self-defense. He was not charged.

Ms. Vallow Daybell, her kids JJ and Tylee, and Cox subsequently moved to eastern Idaho to be closer to Mr. Daybell, a self-published writer of doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on Mormon teachings.

In October 2019, Tammy Daybell died. Mr. Daybell initially told police she was battling an illness and died in her sleep, but an autopsy later determined that she died of asphyxiation. Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell’s death, surprising family members.

Nearly a year after the children went missing, their remains were found buried on Mr. Daybell’s property in eastern Idaho. Investigators determined both children died in September 2019. Prosecutors say Cox conspired with Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow Daybell in all three deaths, but Cox died of natural causes during the investigation and was never charged.

Prosecutors called dozens of witnesses to bolster their claims that Mr. Daybell and Ms. Vallow Daybell conspired to kill the children and Tammy Daybell because they wanted to get rid of any obstacles to their relationship and obtain money from survivor benefits and life insurance. Prosecutors say the couple justified the killings by creating an apocalyptic belief system that people could be possessed by evil spirits and turned into “zombies,” and that the only way to save a possessed person’s soul was for the possessed body to die.

Fremont County prosecutor Lindsay Blake said Mr. Daybell styled himself a leader of what he called “The Church of the Firstborn” and told Ms. Vallow Daybell and others that he could determine if someone had become a “zombie.” Mr. Daybell also claimed to be able to determine how close a person was to death by reading what he called their “death percentage,” Ms. Blake said during closing arguments on Wednesday.

With these elements, Mr. Daybell followed a pattern for each of those who were killed, Ms. Blake said.

“They would be labeled as ‘dark’ by Chad Daybell. Their ‘death percentage’ would drop. Then they would have to die,” she said.

NTD Photo
A boy looks at a memorial for Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow in Rexburg, Idaho on June 11, 2020. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP)

Ms. Blake also said Mr. Daybell manipulated Ms. Vallow Daybell and her brother, Cox, into helping with the plan, at times bestowing ‘spiritual blessings’ on Cox and warning Ms. Vallow Daybell that the angels were angry because she was at times ignoring him.

Mr. Daybell’s defense attorney, John Prior, rejected the prosecution’s descriptions of Mr. Daybell’s beliefs. He described Mr. Daybell as a traditional member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a deeply religious man who talked about his spiritual beliefs every chance he could get.

Mr. Prior said police looked only for things they could use against Mr. Daybell rather than the actual facts of the case—and he claimed that the children’s late uncle, Cox, committed the crimes. He noted that Cox had killed JJ Vallow’s father in Arizona and that the two children were the only witnesses to that shooting. He also said Cox tried to frame Mr. Daybell by burying the slain children in Mr. Daybell’s yard.

During the sentencing phase, jurors will be asked to decide if Mr. Daybell should receive a death sentence—Idaho law allows execution by lethal injection or firing squad—or life in prison. Mr. Woodcock said he will be satisfied with either option.

“That’s what you get for murdering children. That’s what you get for murdering your wife. Chad made his decision—he knew it was wrong,” Mr. Woodcock said.

By Rebecca Boone

ntd newsletter icon
Sign up for NTD Daily
What you need to know, summarized in one email.
Stay informed with accurate news you can trust.
By registering for the newsletter, you agree to the Privacy Policy.