FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho — A grand jury indicted Lori and Chad Daybell on first degree murder charges Tuesday in connection with the deaths of her children, Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow.
Chad Daybell was also charged with first degree murder in connection with the death of his first wife, Tammy Daybell.
Both Chad and Lori were also charged with three counts of conspiracy to commit murder of all three victims, Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood announced.
While the indictment doesn't reveal any details of how the three victims died, it does say Chad and Lori endorsed and espoused specific religious beliefs in order to justify or encourage the killing of each victim.
The indictments were handed down on the day that J.J. Vallow would have turned nine years old.
Prosecutors did not discuss whether they would pursue the death penalty against Chad and Lori, but they must make that announcement within 60 days after the defendants make a plea.
Wood added that Lori was additionally charged with grand theft in relation to social security benefits allocated to her children. Daybell allegedly took those funds after the children were already missing.
Two counts of insurance fraud were also brought against Chad related to life insurance policies he had on Tammy Daybell, of which he was the beneficiary and received funds after her death.
"We have been working diligently to pursue justice for the victims in this case, to ensure we have the evidence required to prove the facts beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law," said Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake.
Former FBI agent Frank Montoya discusses the Daybell murder investigation below
The Daybells will make their first court appearances on the new charges Wednesday.
"This is what they call, in a sense, the totality of circumstances," said retired FBI Special Agent Frank Montoya Junior. "Everything adds up."
He said the prosecution appears to be making a strong case for premeditation to the murders, by listing alleged actions by the Daybells and Lori's brother, Alex Cox, leading up to when each person was killed.
They may also be already bracing for how the defense could respond to the indictments, Montoya Jr. indicated, which is potentially why the religious beliefs were factored into the charges.
"I think that that may be the prosecution's anticipation of possible insanity defense, in regard to the fact that they're using religion as a crux, as that justification," he said. He continued that the prosecution may be sending a message: "Well don’t be fooled by that... [Chad and Lori] were conscious and cognizant of what they were doing."
Montoya Jr. said the prosecution team put together a lot of pieces to the puzzle, from Lori's collection of JJ and Tylee's social security benefits, to Chad allegedly maxing out Tammy's life insurance before her death, to text messages exchanged between Chad and Lori that apparently talked about the "death percentages" of Tammy and JJ, to burner phones purchased by Chad and Alex, to those religious beliefs.
But the huge piece of cause of death for each person is missing out of the indictment-- which Montoya Jr. said could be for a reason.
He said it's standard procedure to lay out enough to convince the judge and grand jury in an indictment. Which in this case, would be all those bits and pieces.
"You lay out enough to publicly announce that you have enough information to these bring charges," he said.
Officials found the buried bodies of 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan on Idaho property owned by Chad Daybell on June 9, 2020. The two had disappeared in Sept. 2019.
Tammy Daybell's October 2019 death was initially ruled to be of natural causes. An autopsy was not performed at the time.
Investigators later exhumed her body from the Springville Cemetery on December 11, 2019 to perform tests.
Just two weeks after her death, Chad Daybell married Lori Vallow, whose own husband, Charles Vallow, had died a few months earlier.
Days before her death, Tammy Daybell posted online about how someone tried to shoot her with a paintball gun.
The story raised suspicion more than a year ago with Kay Woodcock and Larry Woodcock, the grandparents of J.J. Vallow.
"Tammy Daybell, ten days before she died, somebody came at her with a paintball gun?" asked Kay Woodcock in a January 2020 interview. "(My husband said) that wasn’t a prank. That wasn’t a paintball gun... Obviously Tammy didn’t know what she was looking at... It misfired. Otherwise she probably would’ve been dead that day."
Kay and Larry Woodcock have never met Chad Daybell or his late wife Tammy Daybell. Still, they have learned about a call she placed in the days leading up to her mysterious death on 10/19.— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) January 5, 2020
This @fox13 web exclusive shows what they believe happened. pic.twitter.com/ayqoYDmZdw
Investigators later identified Lori Vallow's brother, Alex Cox as the gunman.
According to the indictment, Cox and Chad Daybell both obtained "burner phones" prior to the incident.
"Alex Cox conducted multiple internet searches between the dates of October 8, 2019 and October 12, 2019 including searches related to Grendel drop and shooting through a Dodge Dakota," the indictment reads. "Alex (was) going to gun range in the months before October 9, 2019 when the attempted shooting of Tamara 'Tammy' Daybell takes place."
According to court documents filed by the state...— Adam Herbets (@AdamHerbets) May 25, 2021
- Alex Cox did in fact try to shoot and kill Tammy Daybell on October 9, 2019
- Alex Cox went to gun range to practice in the months before October 9
- Chad Daybell said his wife was possessed by a spirit named "Viola. " pic.twitter.com/wxpXLDdw1X
According to the indictment, Cox was in a parking lot of a church 2.5 miles away from the Daybell residence on the night Tammy Daybell died.
The complex case began in 2018, according to the indictment, when Chad and Lori - both still married to other people - began espousing their apocalyptic system of religious belief. Things may have begun to publicly unravel in the summer of 2019, however, when Cox shot and killed Lori Vallow's estranged husband, Charles Vallow, in suburban Phoenix.
Cox asserted the shooting was in self-defense, and he was never charged in connection with Vallow's death. At the time, Charles Vallow was seeking a divorce, saying his wife believed she had become a god-like figure who was responsible for ushering in the biblical end of times.
Shortly after Vallow's death, the defendant and the children moved to Idaho, where Chad Daybell lived. He recorded podcasts about preparing for the apocalypse, and friends said he claimed to be able to receive visions from "beyond the veil."
At the time, Chad Daybell was married to Tammy Daybell, a fit 49-year-old school librarian who helped him run the publishing company.
Cox died of "natural causes" the day after Tammy Daybell's body was exhumed.
Authorities grew suspicious when Chad Daybell remarried just two weeks later, and they had Tammy Daybell's body exhumed in Utah in December.
It took more than a year for the autopsy to be completed, but the results have not been released.
Jim Winder, the former Salt Lake County Sheriff and chief investigator for the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, said he expects defense attorneys for both Chad and Lori will argue that their clients are mentally incompetent to stand trial.
Winder also speculated the case is ripe for a plea deal.
"If these people just stick to their guns, it will absolutely go to trial, and it may be in some twisted way for them to promote whatever religious ideology that they’re promoting," Winder said. "Who knows."
CHARGES AGAINST LORI AND CHAD DAYBELL:
- TWO counts of first-degree murder in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan
- TWO counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan
- TWO counts of grand theft by deception in deaths of J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan
- ONE count of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in death of Tammy Daybell
ADDITIONAL CHARGES AGAINST LORI DAYBELL:
- ONE count of grand theft
ADDITIONAL CHARGES AGAINST CHAD DAYBELL:
- ONE count of first-degree murder in death of Tammy Daybell
- TWO counts of insurance fraud