BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Hundreds of people are expected to gather at an Idaho courthouse Monday morning as attorneys begin selecting 18 potential jurors for the trial of a woman charged in what prosecutors say was a doomsday-focused plot.
Prosecutors charged Lori Vallow Daybell and her husband, Chad Daybell, with conspiracy, murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of Vallow Daybell’s two youngest children: 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and big sister Tylee Ryan, who was last seen a few days before her 17th birthday in 2019. Prosecutors also have charged the couple in connection with the October 2019 death of Chad Daybell’s late wife, Tammy Daybell.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty, but only Vallow Daybell’s trial begins Monday. The cases have been severed and Chad Daybell’s trial is still months away. Vallow Daybell faces up to life in prison if convicted.
The investigation garnered worldwide attention and was closely followed in the rural eastern Idaho community where the bodies of the children were found buried in Chad Daybell’s yard. As a result, Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce moved the trial more than 200 miles (320 kilometers) east to the city of Boise.
Prosecutors say the Daybells espoused strange doomsday-focused beliefs to further their alleged plan to kill the kids and Tammy Daybell to collect life insurance money and the children’s social security and survivor benefits.
Police documents detailed interviews with family members and friends who said the couple led a group that met to pray, believing they could drive out evil spirits and seek revelations from “beyond the spiritual veil.” Vallow Daybell’s close friend Melanie Gibb told investigators that the couple believed people became “zombies” when they were possessed by evil spirits.
The group would spend time praying to get rid of the zombies and believed, if they were successful, the possessed person would physically die, freeing their trapped soul from “limbo.” Vallow Daybell called JJ and Tylee “zombies” several times before they died, Gibb told investigators.
Authorities summoned 1,800 potential jurors to the courthouse in late March, requiring each of them to complete a 20-page questionnaire in hopes of winnowing out anyone unable to fairly try the case. Defense attorneys and prosecutors have spent the last few days reviewing the questionnaires and will begin questioning the remaining jury pool members Monday in an effort to pick 12 jurors and six alternates to hear the case. The process could take days.
Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating the couple in November 2019 after extended family members reported the children were missing. During that period, police say the couple lied about the children’s whereabouts. The children’s bodies were found buried on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.
The couple married two weeks after Chad Daybell’s previous wife died unexpectedly. Tammy Daybell’s death was initially reported as resulting from natural causes, but investigators had her body exhumed after suspicions grew when Chad Daybell quickly remarried.
Vallow Daybell is separately charged with conspiracy to commit murder in Arizona in connection with the July 2019 death of her previous husband, Charles Vallow. He was shot by Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who claimed the killing was self-defense.
The Arizona case is on hold during the Idaho proceedings.