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Murder charge against Chad Daybell will stand despite wrong date of child’s death, judge says

By REBECCA BOONE Associated Press - | May 17, 2024

FILE - Chad Daybell sits during a court hearing, Aug. 4, 2020, in St. Anthony, Idaho. A judge is considering what effect a paperwork snafu should have on one of the three murder charges against Chad Daybell, an Idaho man accused of killing his wife and his new girlfriend’s two children. (John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, File)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A typo in the triple murder indictment of an Idaho man accused of killing his wife and his girlfriend’s two children doesn’t mean that he should be acquitted of one of the deaths, a judge said Thursday.

Prosecutors had been carefully detailing the case against Chad Daybell to jurors over the past three weeks. Shortly after they closed their case Thursday afternoon, 7th District Judge Steven Boyce alerted the attorneys to a major error: The date of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow’s death was wrong in the indictment.

That sparked a flurry of arguments over whether the problem could be fixed or if Daybell should simply be acquitted of that charge.

“We’re all kind of falling on our sword here,” special assistant attorney general Ingrid Batey told the judge Thursday, describing the issue as “clearly a clerical error.”

Boyce ultimately agreed with prosecutors, describing it as an “inadvertent mistake” and saying jurors could be given special instructions allowing them to still consider the full case.

The bizarre case began in 2019 after the two children were reported missing, prompting a multi-state search and a missing persons investigation. The case turned stranger by the day, according to police reports, with people close to Daybell describing him as promoting doomsday-focused religious beliefs, including claims of reincarnation and that people could be possessed by evil spirits and turned into “zombies.”

Prosecutors ultimately charged Daybell with three counts of first degree murder, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connections with the deaths of his late wife Tammy Daybell and of his newest wife’s two kids. The new wife, Lori Vallow Daybell, was also charged and sentenced to life in prison without parole after a trial last year.

The original indictment filed in the case back in 2021 had the correct date, saying that JJ’s death occurred on or between Sept. 22 and 23, 2019. But it was amended in February to say the boy was killed “on or between the 8th and 9th day of September, 2019.” Those are actually the dates that prosecutors believe his big sister, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, was killed.

The amendment was made after prosecutors asked the judge for permission to make a few changes to wording of the conspiracy charges. Critically, they did not ask for permission to change the murder count related to JJ’s death.

Boyce said that meant that they did not legally have permission to change that count — showing that the date change was accidental.

Defense attorney John Prior argued that any changes now would substantially harm Chad Daybell’s due process rights, but Boyce noted that the dates had been correct for three years of the case, and the error was only introduced a few months before the trial began. That gave them ample time to prepare, the judge said.

Prior will begin presenting Daybell’s defense case on Monday.

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