(CN) — An Idaho judge ruled from the bench Tuesday that there is enough evidence to warrant a trial in the case of a man accused of destroying evidence related to the murders of his wife’s two children, whose bodies were found on his property in June.
Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins found Idaho prosecutors fully met their burden of establishing probable cause to try Chad Daybell on charges of evidence destruction and conspiracy to destroy evidence. Authorities charged Daybell after they found the remains of his wife Lori Vallow’s children, Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16, buried on Daybell’s Idaho property.
Tuesday’s ruling comes after two days of gruesome witness testimony and after Daybell’s attorney John Prior argued the state was “not even close” to establishing any kind of conspiracy. Prior told Eddins the state had not produced a timeline for when any crimes supposedly occurred and that the charges against Daybell should be dismissed.
But Eddins found that the testimony from several witnesses and evidence shown in nearly three dozen exhibits during the hearings were sufficient to hold Daybell over for trial.
While most of Monday’s hearing was spent on the initial timeline of JJ and Tylee’s disappearance this past fall and the discovery of their bodies in June, most of Tuesday morning was spent hearing testimony from Melanie Gibb and her boyfriend David Warwick, two people who were close to Daybell and Vallow around the time that JJ and Tylee were last seen.
During cross-examination by Prior, Gibb testified that she first met Daybell at a disaster “preparedness camp” put on by the Mormon church in Morgan, Utah, two or three years ago. Gibb said the camp taught people how to filter their own water and prepare for sudden electricity outages, but attendees also shared personal stories on spiritual experiences, dreams and visions.
Gibb said she met Vallow at a separate event at a Mormon church and then again at a St. George, Utah, conference that also covered subjects like spiritual dreams and visions.
Gibb’s testimony lines up with what’s known about the apocalyptic beliefs Vallow and Daybell held together, with some family members reportedly suggesting that Vallow and Daybell are members of a doomsday cult.
According to local news reports, Daybell was reportedly tasked by Vallow to gauge the “light or dark spirits” of JJ and Tylee using a special number-based rubric. According to the rubric, two or three scores were “fluid” and could “change sides during Earth life” while those with a 4.1 rating or above “rarely switched sides.”
This led Daybell to send Vallow an email stating that Tylee was a 4.1 dark spirit and JJ was 4.2 light spirit — an email sent less than 11 months before the children disappeared.
Daybell also reportedly predicted the end of the world would take place sometime in July, a date that has since come and gone.
The court then heard from David Warwick, whose testimony largely focused on the night of Sept. 22, 2019, and the following morning, roughly around the time JJ and Tylee were last seen. On the stand, Warwick testified about the night he and Gibb went to Vallow’s house to record a podcast and that later in the evening, Warwick saw Vallow’s brother Alex Cox show up with JJ before taking him to bed.
Warwick testified that the following morning he went downstairs and asked where JJ was. Vallow told him JJ was “acting like a zombie” by climbing on the cabinets and fridge, knocking down a picture of Jesus Christ in the process. Warwick asked if he could see JJ, but Vallow told him that he was too “out of control” and that she had had her brother come get him.
A few months later, Vallow’s brother was found dead in Arizona. His death remains under investigation.
Cox’s death, however, is not the only one tied to Daybell and Vallow. The deaths of Vallow’s third husband Joseph Ryan and fourth husband Charles Vallow, who was shot and killed by Cox in an incident that police initially determined was self-defense, have both received renewed scrutiny since the disappearance of JJ and Tylee.
Meanwhile, the death of Daybell’s former wife Tammy Daybell, who died just two weeks before Chad and Vallow got married, has also been subject of a fresh investigation despite at first being classified as natural when Chad Daybell reportedly refused to allow an autopsy.
A portion of Tuesday’s hearing was also spent on a phone call that took place between Daybell and Vallow, who was in jail at the time, while police conducted the search on Daybell’s property that ultimately led to the discovery of JJ and Tylee’s remains.
In a recording of the call — which Judge Eddins conceded was difficult to properly hear — Daybell can heard telling Vallow that the police were “searching the property.” Vallow asks if he means they are searching the house at that moment, and when he answers yes, she asks him if they “seizing stuff.” Daybell tells her that they will see what happens and tells her they’ll talk again soon before ending the call.
Several law enforcement officials also testified Tuesday about the details of phone records, cellphone pings from Alex Cox’s phone on Daybell’s property, emails and things that led them to search Daybell’s property and helped establish a timeline of JJ and Tylee’s disappearance.
With Daybell’s hearing concluded, the case has been handed to District Judge Steven Boyce for arraignment Aug. 21.
The preliminary hearing in the case against Lori Vallow kicks off Aug. 10.