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Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell make first court appearances after murder indictment

Prosecutors say the pair used doomsday predictions and warnings about evil spirits to justify killing Vallow's children and Daybell's wife.

FREMONT COUNTY, Idaho — An Idaho couple prosecutors say used doomsday predictions and warnings about evil spirits to justify killing a woman and two children have officially been charged with murder.

Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell were indicted in Fremont County Tuesday on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, grand theft by deception, grand theft, and insurance fraud.

The duo appeared in court separately over Zoom Wednesday morning. Daybell, clad in a white shirt and red tie, sat quietly next to his lawyer as the charges were read, speaking up to respond "yes I do" when asked if he understood the possible penalties if he is convicted. Daybell will next appear in court June 9 for an arraignment.

Vallow's appearance was much briefer. After a late start to the hearing, Judge Faren Eddins announced that he had been asked by the defense to push back the court appearance due to "exigent circumstances." Neither the judge nor Vallow's attorney said what issue necessitated postponing the hearing. 

Vallow, darker-haired and wearing a light blue sweater and face mask, did not speak during the exchange. Eddins granted the request over the objection of prosecutors. 

A new date for her hearing has not yet been set.

Vallow and Daybell are accused of killing both Vallow's children, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old JJ Vallow. The children's bodies were unearthed in June 2020 on Daybell's Fremont County property.

JJ had been wrapped in plastic and bound with duct tape before being buried, investigators say, while Tylee's body had been cut into pieces and burned. 

Neither the indictment nor prosecutors have shed any more light on how the children are believed to have been killed. The murder counts related to the children charge that Vallow and Daybell either killed Tylee and JJ themselves, helped kill them, or encouraged or commanded another person to kill them. 

Cellphone records and witness accounts put Vallow's brother Alex Cox in the locations where both JJ and Tylee were last seen in September 2019, as well as on Daybell's property immediately after, where the children's graves were ultimately found. 

Prosecutors have long suggested that Cox played a role in the killings. He died in December 2019, months after the children disappeared.

Vallow and Daybell are also accused of conspiring to kill Daybell's then-wife, Tammy Daybell, who was found dead in her bed in October 2019. Chad Daybell is also charged directly in his wife's murder, although Vallow is not. 

According to the indictment, Vallow and Daybell exchanged text messages as early as July regarding "death percentages" for both Tammy Daybell and 7-year-old JJ. The suspects later texted each other that Tammy Daybell was in "limbo" and had been possessed by a spirit named Viola.

The indictment also concludes that Alex Cox attempted to shoot Tammy Daybell on Oct. 9, 2019 - ten days before she was found dead. He also visited a gun range during that period and conducted Internet searches related to bullet drop rates and shooting through a Dodge Dakota.

The night before the woman was found dead, according to the indictment, Alex Cox was parked 2.5 miles away from her house in a church parking lot. 

A former friend of the defendants, who is now a main witness for the prosecution, says that Lori Vallow confided that her children had turned into "zombies" or been overtaken by a dark spirit. Melanie Gibb said that Lori Vallow told her that Tylee had become a zombie when the girl was 12 or 13, and that she became convinced JJ was a zombie as well after he knocked over a picture of Jesus while climbing up on cabinets. 

Both Vallow and Daybell held fringe religious beliefs that the end of the world was imminent and that they were chosen beings who would lead the 144,000 remaining survivors on Earth after the apocalypse. 

The pair further believed that people could be taken over by evil spirits, preventing their true souls from reaching heaven until their physical bodies had died, according to investigators.

According to the conspiracy to commit murder charges in the indictment, both Vallow and Daybell "did endorse and espouse religious beliefs for the purpose of encouraging and/or justifying the homicide" of JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell.

The couple is also charged with financial crimes for Vallow allegedly continuing to collect Social Security benefit payments for her children despite knowing they were dead, and Daybell cashing in a life insurance policy and another insurance policy on his late wife. 

Vallow and Daybell were married in Hawaii in November 2019, weeks after Tammy Daybell's death.

First-degree murder is punishable by life in prison or death. Prosecutors have not yet indicated whether they will seek the death penalty in the case.

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