What it was like inside the courtroom on day one of the Chad Daybell murder trial

Apr 11, 2024, 10:19 AM | Updated: 4:48 pm

Chad Daybell appears during a court hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, Aug. 4, 2020. On the first day o...

FILE - Chad Daybell appears during a court hearing in St. Anthony, Idaho, Aug. 4, 2020. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via Associated Press)

(John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via Associated Press)

BOISE, Idaho — Testimony began on Wednesday in the trial of Chad Daybell, who is charged with the murder of his first wife Tammy Daybell. Chad Daybell is also charged in the deaths of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow, the two youngest children of his wife Lori Vallow Daybell.


KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas sat in the courtroom for the entire first day of the trial and provided this account of what he saw and heard.

Chad Daybell murder trial, 8:45 a.m.

It’s 8:45 and I’m in the courtroom. The attorneys and judge are not yet in the courtroom but they brought Chad in. He’s sitting alone; stoic as a statute, looking straight ahead. He’s wearing a shirt and tie. His hair is really short — like a military cut. He hasn’t moved an inch in 15 minutes.

Larry Woodcock (JJ’s grandfather) is talking to others in the courtroom. Other than that, the courtroom is dead silent.

10:04 a.m.

The state starts opening arguments. The theme, they say, is three dead people and Chad’s pursuit of power, sex and money. Paints Chad as an ordinary man. Marries Tammy and they have five kids. But that life was not enough for Chad.

The prosecutor talks about “Chapter 2,” Chad meets Lori. And their affair. His thirst for sex, power and money. Chad writes that they have met before in another life. Becomes obsessed with her beauty and his desire for sex. Claims that she was sent to this earth to be with him.

Chapter 3 — Their spouses, Lori’s children and others are in their way to being together. The state introduces jury to Alex Cox. Chad gives Alex a blessing welcoming him into their religion and thanking him for his assistance. Chad calls him and Lori “James and Elena.”

Chapter 4 — Charles Vallow killed by Alex Cox. Lori was awaiting her $1 million life insurance policy. But she sends Chad a text that she will still get $4,000 per month from social security. Talks about Tylee and JJ being dark and zombies.

Chapter 5 — Same with Tammy Daybell, another dark spirit. Tammy dies at home with Chad present and a $400,000 life insurance policy which Chad quickly took. Medical Examiner determines Tammy’s death to be homicide. Seventeen days after Tammy dies, Chad and Lori marry in Hawaii. Lori was actually shopping for wedding rings while Tammy was still alive.

Chapter 6 — The investigation begins. Chad and Lori are deceptive to inquiries about the whereabouts of the kids. Chad talks about shooting and burning a raccoon. The state claims that was actually a reference to the kids.

The state goes through a detailed timeline of major events in an attempt to put the events in context. Charles Vallow is killed, JJ and Tylee missing, Tammy killed, Chad and Lori marry, the investigation begins.

State spells out:

  • Finances from the deaths
  • Unraveling of the conspiracy
  • Forensic Evidence
  • Hawaii
  • Putting the case together.

We are in recess while the defense prepares his opening remarks.

10:57 a.m.

Defense starts opening statements.

He says “What’s important is facts and evidence. don’t be distracted by assumptions and speculation” Immediately tell the jury that Chad went on a mission. Claims not to know much about Chad’s faith. Chad marries Tammy.

Writes books about his faith and premonitions. Mentions Chad’s mission several times. Talks about Chad’s “dark and light” premonitions. Claims Chad’s writings are all fiction, and always meant to be fiction notwithstanding his premonitions. Chad tours to promote his books when a “beautiful and stunning woman” approaches him. (Lori Vallow)

Talks about Chad as a regular guy, “only has one speeding ticket.”

Talks about Lori as completely different. Several marriages. Alex Cox is her great protector.

Lori goes through her third “terrible” marriage. Alex Cox tases Lori’s third husband. Alex will do whatever is necessary to help Lori.

2019 — Chad and Lori are married to others but start an affair. Alex Cox shoots Lori’s fourth husband. Chad had nothing to do with the killing of Charles Vallow. Paints Lori as a great seductress.

Introduces his four proposed experts:

  1. DNA expert. Will talk about DNA evidence on the scene. Alex Cox’s fingerprints and hair found at the scene. No DNA from Chad at the scene of JJ and Tylee.
  2. Forensic Expert. No indication that Tammy was murdered. No way to determine the cause of death. Tammy’s children will talk about her strange illnesses and maladies.
  3. Forensic digital data expert. Will speak about the phone records from this case. (Apparently in an effort to put Alex Cox in the spotlight)
  4. Forensic Anthropologist. The lack of evidence from Tylee’s remains. Maybe to show that there isn’t enough to support the State’s theories.

Clearly trying to place the blame on Alex and Lori.

Day one: Chad Daybell murder trial, 11:53 a.m.

First witness — Detective Ray Hermosillo. I think he was the main case agent for Lori too. Detective with Rexburg PD.

11/1/2019 Started investigation.​ Jeep was involved in the shooting. Starts surveillance of Chad and Lori, but never sees any kids. Hands Defense counsel Exhibits. He looks them over as though he’s never seen them before. Studies them for about a minute. They are pictures of a Jeep. He objects to pictures of the Jeep and asks questions about them that are irrelevant to the pictures. Later withdraws his objection (which wasn’t appropriate in the first place) but the defense counsel made clear very early on that he’s going to contest a lot of the state’s case, unlike Lori’s attorneys who agreed to most everything.

Rexburg and Gilbert PD are working together on the Jeep and are made aware of missing kids. Start looking for JJ at the request of his grandmother, who reports him missing. Defense objects to pictures of JJ. Not gruesome photos. They are pictures of a little boy. Later withdraws the objection.

They go to the house to meet with Lori about missing JJ and see Chad and Alex unloading a truck. Alex is asked about JJ and he gets nervous, and looks at Chad. Alex finally says JJ is with his grandmother, Kay, in Louisiana. But the grandmother is the person who called in the missing person. Alex claims not to know where Lori is nor her phone number. Chad claims not to have seen JJ for over a month and to barely know Lori. (They were married at the time and had been for 2 weeks.) Chad claims not to have Lori’s phone number. Later provides it.

Seeks search warrant for JJ. “Our only focus was to find JJ”. However, Lori finally opens the door after not doing so for some time. Lori is interviewed. She gives another story about JJ being with Melanie Gibb in Gilbert, Arizona. That story also proves to be untrue. So, they applied for warrants for several of the apartments where JJ was claimed to have been seen.

Apartment 175 — Lori’s place. Found some children’s stuff. Toys, etc. and a prescription bottle for JJ. However, there was no children’s clothing in the home. But they also found guns and knives. Storage unit receipt.

Apartment 174 — Melanie Boudreaux’s apartment. Nothing of interest.

Apartment 107 — Empty for the most part.

Storage Unit — Kid’s stuff. JJ and Tyee’s stuff.

They weren’t looking for Tylee yet. She had not been reported missing at that time.

Judge breaks for lunch at 11:50.

Afternoon session

The afternoon session started with the same Detective, who is likely to take the rest of the day. Maybe even going into tomorrow. But the state is being thorough and the defense is making a lot of objections. The defense attorney also spends a lot of time reviewing each exhibit before he will allow the state to admit it.

Defense counsel is also being allowed to voir dire the witness for many of the exhibits. This is not a common practice but has happened about a dozen times today. In effect, the State shows the witness an exhibit, like a photograph, and then asks the court to admit it to the jury so that they can see it. Instead of objecting or agreeing to the admission of the photograph, defense counsel asks to voir dire the witness and then asks things like, “did you take the photograph?”, “do you know who did?” ” were you present when they were taken?” “who else was present when the photograph was taken?” Typically, and especially because the defense has had these exhibits for years before the trial, he can file a Motion in Limine and address the admissibility of an exhibit before trial and not in front of the jury.

(Sorry about all the Latin; but “May I voir dire the witness” is a lot cooler sounding than “Hey Judge can I ask a few questions before it’s really my turn?” And a “Motion in Limine” is way better than a “PreTrial Motion designed to prevent wasting time in front of the jury”).

The detective is going through a timeline of his investigation and the steps he took to find the missing children. He is very poised and professional. The state is doing a good job of showing how thoroughly he and his department investigated this case. He is going through the work he did to get a court order requiring Lori to produce the children. Lori was in Hawaii and avoiding the Order. Importantly, she was in Hawaii with Chad.

This detective went to Hawaii to serve the warrant. He testified that Lori never produced the children as ordered. By this time, Tylee had been added to the missing child investigation.

As they were about to break, the judge announced to the jury that there would be no court on Friday.

Day one: Chad Daybell murder trial, 3:07 p.m.

Final session of the day.

Detective Hermosillo is still on the stand and again, likely will not be finished today. But he’s being thorough and careful to be accurate.

The judge has just taken counsel out of the courtroom to address something. This occurred after maybe two minutes of testimony. He seemed bothered by something.

3:39 p.m.

Back in session.

Hermosillo is speaking about Chad and his reaction to the police looking around his property. We’re running out of time for the day, and the judge probably won’t go after 3:30. But the detective is just now zeroing in on the first finding of the bodies. He is even describing the smell. As officers dug into the soil near the “fire pit” they could smell even more the smell of a decaying human corpse and began uncovering human remains.

Just then, Chad jumped into his car and attempted to flee. He was stopped.

The judge sends the jury home for the day. He then reminds both counsels that back in February, they agreed on the admissibility of 74 exhibits. This may be in response to defense counsel objecting to virtually every exhibit offered by the State today. Some of these exhibits are state exhibits and some are defense exhibits.

The Judge adjourns for the day at 3:29 . The court will resume with the attorneys tomorrow at 8 a.m. and the jury at 8:30 a.m. There is some sort of issue that needs to be resolved in the morning before the jury comes in.

We want to hear from you.

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What it was like inside the courtroom on day one of the Chad Daybell murder trial