Judge splits trials of couple charged in triple murder case

ST. ANTHONY, Idaho (AP) — A married couple accused in a bizarre doomsday-focused triple murder case will be tried separately, an Idaho judge ruled Thursday.

Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce determined that Lori Vallow Daybell would stand trial as planned on April 3, but Chad Daybell’s trial would take place at a later date, EastIdahoNews.com reported.

Chad Daybell has waived his right to a speedy trial and his attorneys said they needed more time to review DNA evidence that recently came back from testing. But Vallow Daybell has not waived her right to a swift trial and so her case must proceed as planned, Boyce said.

“I have to balance these rights of these defendants in this case,” Boyce said. “Severance is the only option I see.”

Both of the defendants have pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges in connection with the deaths of Vallow Daybell’s children, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, and Tylee Ryan, who was last seen a few days before her 17th birthday. They are also charged in connection with the October 2019 death of Chad Daybell’s late wife, Tammy Daybell. They could face the death penalty if convicted.

Prosecutors had previously pushed for the couple to be tried together, citing in part the expense of holding two trials that are each expected to take weeks. But the judge noted the prosecutors didn’t give the DNA evidence — a hair found at the crime scene — to the defense attorneys in a timely matter. Chad Daybell’s attorney, John Prior, said he needed to have his own testing done on the hair because the results could be crucial to Daybell’s defense.

“That evidence provides, at least from my perspective, an explanation potentially of where Mr. Daybell and I are going to go in this particular case,” said Prior. “I need to have an opportunity to test that evidence.”

Prosecutors say the couple used doomsday-focused religious beliefs to further a plan to kill Lori Vallow Daybell’s two children and Chad Daybell’s previous wife as part of a plot to steal social security funds and insurance money.

Idaho law enforcement officers started investigating the couple in November 2019 after extended family members reported that the children were missing. During that period, police said the couple lied about the children’s whereabouts. Their bodies were found buried later on Chad Daybell’s property in rural Idaho.

The couple married just two weeks after Chad Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell, died unexpectedly. Tammy Daybell’s death was initially reported as due to natural causes, but investigators had her body exhumed after growing suspicious when Chad Daybell quickly remarried.

Lori Vallow Daybell is also 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 and killed by Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, who claimed it was self-defense.

The Arizona legal proceedings are on hold while the Idaho case is underway.

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