Chad Daybell triple-murder trial begins with claims about zombies and doomsday plot

An Idaho man charged with three murders in an unusual doomsday-focused case crafted an alternate reality so that he could fulfill "his desire for sex, money and power," a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday morning.

"When he had a chance at what he considered his rightful destiny, he made sure no person and no law would stand in his way," prosecutor Rob Wood said.

Chad Daybell, 55, is facing charges of first degree murder, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Tammy Daybell, 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan. Last year, their mother, Vallow Daybell, received a life sentence without parole for the killings.

Prosecutors say the couple justified the three killings by creating a detailed and apocalyptic belief system, part of an elaborate scheme to eliminate any obstacles to their relationship and to obtain money from survivor benefits and life insurance. Vallow Daybell referred to her two youngest kids as zombies, one friend testified during her trial.

MORE: Continuing coverage on the Chad Daybell trial

"The evidence will show that this was a convenient narrative," Wood told jurors. "This narrative gave them the pretext to remove people from this world for their own good."

Daybell’s defense attorney John Prior presented a different picture to jurors — noting that Chad Daybell was a religious person but suggesting that his belief in things like premonitions were fairly mainstream. Prior also explained to jurors that Lori Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, had a violent history. He had previously been convicted of attacking Vallow Daybell’s third husband, and he shot and killed her fourth husband.

"Whenever there was a problem with Lori Vallow, Alex Cox ran to the rescue," Prior said in opening statements.

Daybell’s attorney also argued that his client lived a normal, faith-focused life before he met Lori Vallow Daybell, who he said showered Daybell with attention. His legal team described her as a "beautiful, vivacious person" who drew Daybell into an extramarital relationship.

Daybell’s attorney also said he would present several experts in DNA, forensics and pathology who would testify that it’s impossible to determine what caused Tammy Daybell’s death and that none of Chad Daybell’s DNA was found with the children’s bodies. Some of Chad and Tammy Daybell’s adult children will also testify, Prior said, about how Tammy Daybell was suffering from a number of maladies but that she refused to see a doctor, instead treating her illnesses with herbs and oils at home.

"What’s important are facts and evidence," Prior told the jury. "Don’t be distracted by speculation, don’t be distracted by guesses or suspicions or hunches. It all comes down to facts and evidence."

The prosecutor, Wood, also described the basics of the case against Daybell, structuring his presentation for jurors like chapters in a book — an apparent reference to the defendant’s previous work as an author. Chad Daybell was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and self-published fiction loosely based on its teachings.

Mugshot for Chad Daybell (Photo Courtesy: Ada County Sheriffs Office)

Mugshot for Chad Daybell (Photo Courtesy: Ada County Sheriff's Office)

In fall 2019, prosecutors say he tried to fraudulently collect on his late wife’s life insurance policy, and Vallow Daybell continued to collect both children’s social security benefits after they died.

Chad Daybell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the trial is expected to take more than two months. Prosecutors said they will seek the death penalty if Daybell is convicted. Daybell’s defense attorney John Prior did not return a phone message requesting comment. A judge has issued a gag order in the case, barring attorneys from talking to the media until the trial is over.

The grim story began in the fall of 2019, when extended family members reported the two children missing and law enforcement officials launched a search that spanned several states. The subsequent investigation took several unexpected turns.

Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell were having an affair when both of their spouses died unexpectedly, investigators said. Vallow Daybell’s husband was shot to death by her brother Alex Cox in Arizona in July 2019; the brother told police it was in self-defense.

Wood told jurors that the evidence in the case will show that Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell manipulated Cox into doing their bidding by promising him spiritual rewards.

Several months later, in October 2019, Tammy Daybell died. Chad Daybell initially told police she was battling an illness and died in her sleep, but an autopsy later determined she died of asphyxiation. Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy Daybell died, surprising family members and drawing suspicion from authorities.

Friends later told detectives that Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell believed they had been reincarnated and were tasked with gathering people before a biblical apocalypse.

Wood said Chad Daybell described both children as being possessed before they disappeared, and that he repeatedly predicted to friends that Tammy Daybell would soon die.

The bodies of the children were eventually found buried on Chad Daybell’s property. Tylee Ryan’s remains had been dismembered and burned, and JJ’s remains were bound.