Chad Daybell Smiles, Chuckles While Facing Murder Charges
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Chad Daybell Smiles, Chuckles During First Court Appearance Since Murder Charges

A screen grab of video from a remote court hearing shows Chad Daybell grinning in court during a May 26, 2021 initial appearance.

Recently accused murderer Chad Daybell on Wednesday smiled and chuckled in court while electronically facing a judge for the first time since a grand jury indicted him on a series of crimes which could, in theory, result in his execution.

Daybell and his wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, are accused of killing Tamara “Tammy” Daybell, 49; Tylee Ryan, 16; and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7. Tylee and Joshua were Lori’s children. Tammy Daybell was Chad’s former wife. She died in 2019; Chad refused an autopsy. Tammy’s body was later exhumed, and her death was subsequently ruled a homicide. The children’s bodies turned up Chad Daybell’s Fremont, Idaho property last year.

Judge Faren Eddins asked Daybell, who seated next to defense attorney John Prior, if he could see and hear the remote proceedings without trouble.

“This is the date and time for an initial appearance,” the judge said while commencing the roughly ten-minute-long proceeding. “Mr. Daybell, can you hear me okay?”

“Yes,” Daybell responded. “Can you hear me?”

“You need to speak a little bit louder Mr. Daybell,” the judge said.

Daybell exhibited what appeared to be a small and perhaps nervous laugh while leaning forward.

“Yes, I can hear you,” the defendant said.

Such exchanges to check the aptitude of videoconferencing software have become increasingly common as remote hearings have become common over the last year.

Eddins explained the legal reason for the initial appearance: to advise Daybell of his rights, to set dates for future hearings, and to ensure counsel was retained.  The specifics are laid out in Idaho Rule of Criminal Procedure 5.

“I do,” Daybell responded when Eddins asked if he understood his rights.

Prior affirmed that he explained Daybell’s rights prior to the hearing.

Daybell waived a formal reading of the indictment; the judge, however, did read the list of charges contained within the eleven-page document.  It contains the following relevant counts:

(1) Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft by deception (Tylee Ryan);
(2) First-degree murder (Tylee Ryan);
(3) Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft by deception (JJ Vallow);
(4) First-degree murder (JJ Vallow);
(5) Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder (Tamara “Tammy” Daybell);
(6) First-degree murder (Tamara “Tammy” Daybell);
(8) Insurance fraud;
(9) Insurance fraud.

Count (7) contained in the same indictment applies only to co-defendant Lori Vallow Daybell.

Several of the counts carry a possible death sentence if the state decides to seek such a punishment.  If Daybell is convicted, any prison terms could run consecutively (back to back) or concurrently (at the same time), the judge confirmed.

Daybell sat stoically through most of the hearing.

Prior confirmed that Daybell had retained his office for representation on the new counts.

An arraignment before a district court judge is scheduled to occur on the morning of June 9.  Eddins said it was unclear whether the hearing would be conducted remotely or in person.  A final time was not set.  A bail amount was also not set.

“Nothing further, Your Honor; may we be excused?” Prior asked at the end of the approximately ten-minute hearing.

“You may,” the judge said while thanking the participants for appearing and adjourning the matter.

Lori Vallow Daybell appeared separately for her initial appearance; her attorney asked the court to reschedule her matter on a different day.

The judge agreed to move the date of the appearance based on information provided separately to the court. He did not elaborate on precisely what that information was.

Watch the Chad Daybell hearing below:

Read the charging document below.

[image via screen capture from YouTube/KTVB-TV]

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Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University.  He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now a Senior Editor for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only.  You should not rely on it for legal advice.  Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.  This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.  Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.