Idaho prosecutors file 'notice of intent to seek the death penalty' in Chad Daybell case

Prosecutors in Idaho say they will seek the death penalty against a couple in the killings of the wife’s two youngest children and the husband’s previous wife in a convoluted case involving doomsday religious beliefs and another suspicious death in Arizona.

The prosecutors made the announcement in court filings on Thursday, saying that all three murders were especially "heinous, atrocious or cruel," that they were done for financial gain and that the couple exhibited such a propensity for killing that they are likely to be a continuing threat to society if they are allowed to live.

This comes before the Aug. 8 deadline.

The state seeks the death penalty against Daybell in event of conviction for any of the murder charges.

In Idaho, Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell are each charged with conspiracy, murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan. The children were missing for several months, during which police said the couple lied about the children’s whereabouts, before their bodies were found buried on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.

They face similar charges in the death of Chad Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell, who died just two weeks before Lori and Chad married.

Chad Daybell, top left; Lori Vallow, top right; JJ Vallow, bottom left; Tylee Ryan, bottom right.

Chad Daybell, top left; Lori Vallow, top right; JJ Vallow, bottom left; Tylee Ryan, bottom right. (file)

And in Arizona, Lori Daybell is charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the death of her previous husband. Charles Vallow was shot and killed by Lori Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who claimed it was self-defense. Cox later died of what police said was natural causes.

Chad Daybell has pleaded not guilty to all the charges, and his attorney John Prior declined to comment on the matter. Lori Daybell has not yet entered a plea in the Idaho or Arizona cases, and was ordered to undergo treatment at a mental health facility in Idaho in hopes of making her competent to stand trial.

On Aug. 30, a judge rules that Vallow is still not determined to be competent to stand trial, and another hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 8.

A statement from prosecutors Lindsay Blake and Rob Wood elaborates on the determination after they spoke extensively with families of JJ Vallow, Tylee Ryan and Tammy Daybell.

Tammy Daybell

Tammy Daybell (file)

"Our process in making this determination was lengthy and comprehensive. We conferred with those immediate family members of JJ Vallow, Tylee Ryan and Tammy Daybell, who have indicated a willingness to speak with us and allowed them an opportunity to provide their input if they wished to do so. The ultimate decision to seek capital punishment rests with the State, and after completing the entire process, we determined that the nature and magnitude of these crimes warrant the possibility of the highest possible punishment. 

"This determination applies only to Chad Daybell. The charges involving Lori Vallow Daybell are currently stayed."

Idaho law allows prosecutors to seek the death penalty if they can show certain "aggravating factors" for crimes like murder or conspiracy to commit murder.

The Fremont and Madison county prosecutors said that in addition to the killings being especially heinous and cruel, the couple showed utter disregard for human life and demonstrated a propensity for murder. They also said the killings were done for financial gain, likely because the pair collected the children’s Social Security survivor benefits and Tammy Daybell’s life insurance money.

Death penalty cases are infrequent but not rare in Idaho. There are currently seven men and one woman on Idaho’s death row.

THE LATEST: Lori Vallow-Chad Daybell case

Chad Daybell pleads not guilty to murder charges, Lori Vallow committed to mental health facility

In June, Lori was charged with conspiring with her husband, Chad, to kill her two children and was committed to a mental health facility for treatment. They pleaded not guilty to the crimes.

Daybell pleaded not guilty in an Idaho courtroom on June 9 to murder charges in connection to the deaths of his wife's children and his ex-wife.

Daybell entered his plea less than 24 hours after 7th District Judge Steven Boyce signed the mental commitment order for Lori Vallow Daybell.

The couple is at the center of a grim saga involving bizarre doomsday beliefs and a months-long search for two missing children who were later found buried in an eastern Idaho yard. 

Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell were each indicted by a grand jury last month on charges of conspiracy, murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Lori Daybell's two youngest children, 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan.

Chad Daybell was also charged with one count of murder and insurance fraud in connection with the death of his late wife, Tammy Daybell, just weeks before his marriage to the co-defendant.

He pleaded not guilty to all those charges, plus charges related to the destruction or concealment of the children's bodies.

June 9 marked one year since authorities discovered the remains of JJ and Tylee on Daybell's Idaho property. Daybell was then arrested.

JJ Vallow's grandmother, Kay Woodcock, attended the June 9 hearing. She said Chad Daybell's plea was a lie.

"I think he should just give it up," she told after the hearing. "How do you have two kids in your backyard and you don't know anything about it? He's a liar."

"He's gonna say what he's gonna say and lie about it from the beginning. They lied about it, so there's nothing you can do about it," said Colby Ryan, older brother of JJ and Tylee.

The judge signed an order Tuesday afternoon ordering Lori Vallow Daybell to be committed to a mental health care facility for treatment for up to three moths, in hopes of making her competent to stand trial. Idaho state law doesn't allow for an insanity defense to criminal charges. But after a psychological assessment, the court found Lori Vallow Daybell wasn't able to assist in her own defense or make informed decisions about her mental health treatment.

"Most cases, like 75% of cases where people are found incompetent to stand trial are resolved or restored back to competency within six months," said Dr. Tess Neal, a clinical and forensic psychologist who is also an assistant professor at Arizona State University.

Dr. Neal says there are structured ways to assess competency.

"Nothing is fool proof, but the field is fairly good and develop some mechanisms to tease apart people who are truly ill from people who are faking ill," said Dr. Neal.

In the indictment, the Daybells are accused of espousing strange religious beliefs to encourage or justify the killings. 

A friend of Lori Daybell told investigators that the pair believed people could be taken over by dark spirits that turned them into "zombies" and that the only way to free that person’s soul was by killing them. Chad Daybell also ran a publishing company and wrote books that were focused on the biblical "end times" and loosely based on the theology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dr. Neal does not know the specifics of Vallow's assessment, but we asked how religious beliefs could factor into competency.

"Many times, psychosis can involve religious-related delusions, or fixed false beliefs can involve religious-related hallucinations or perceiving things that aren't there: voices, sounds, smells and so forth," said Dr. Neal.

The complex case began in 2018, according to the indictment, when Chad and Lori Daybell -- both still married to other people -- began espousing their apocalyptical system of religious belief. Lori Daybell's then-husband, Charles Vallow, eventually decided to seek a divorce. He wrote in court documents that his wife believed she had become a god-like figure responsible for ushering in the end times.

The two were still married but estranged in the summer of 2019 when Lori Daybell's brother Alex Cox shot Charles Vallow, in suburban Phoenix.

Cox asserted the shooting was in self-defense, and he was never charged. Cox later died of an apparent blood clot in his lung.

Shortly after Charles Vallow's death, Lori Daybell -- then still Lori Vallow -- and her children moved to Idaho, where Chad Daybell lived. He ran a small publishing company, releasing doomsday-focused fiction books loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He also 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. She died in October of 2019. Her obituary said she died in her sleep of natural causes.

Authorities grew suspicious when Chad Daybell remarried just two weeks later, and they had Tammy Daybell's body exhumed in Utah in December. The results of that autopsy have not been released.

Police began searching for Tylee and JJ in November after relatives raised concerns.

Officials say the Daybells lied to investigators about their whereabouts before quietly leaving Idaho. They were found in Hawaii months later, without the children. The children's bodies were eventually found buried in a "pet cemetery" on Chad Daybell's eastern Idaho property.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Continuing coverage of the Lori Vallow-Chad Daybell case

Tune in to FOX 10 Phoenix for the latest news:

Sign up for FOX 10 email alerts, newsletters

Get breaking news alerts in the FOX 10 News app. It is FREE! Download for Apple iOS or Android.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.