ST. ANTHONY — The criminal cases against Chad and Lori Daybell have cost Idaho taxpayers over $3.6 million thus far, according to a public records request filed by EastIdahoNews.com.
The couple is charged with multiple counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan – two of Lori’s children – along with Chad’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell. They have pleaded not guilty.
The Rexburg Police Department began investigating in November 2019 when Larry and Kay Woodcock, JJ’s grandparents, requested a welfare check for their grandson. Since then, the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been involved in the cases.
EastIdahoNews.com asked Madison County, the city of Rexburg and Fremont County to provide an estimated cost of the cases between late 2019 and Dec. 2022.
- Madison County spent approximately $416,520
- The city of Rexburg spent approximately $1,465,701
- Fremont County spent approximately $1,750,000
The total amount spent between the three jurisdictions over the three years is approximately $3,632,221. This includes personnel, investigation costs and other expenses with law enforcement, the prosecution and public defenders.
Fremont County is currently paying all public defense fees but at the end of the trials, Madison County will reimburse for a portion of them, Madison County Clerk Kim Muir tells EastIdahoNews.com.
Curtis Smith, a criminal defense attorney with Smith Woolf Anderson & Wilkinson in Idaho Falls, has not been involved in the cases but has been watching them closely. He says while the price tag may seem high, this situation is complex.
“This obviously is such a unique case. It starts with the investigation of the missing children and it leads to a contempt order and pretty soon they’re located in Hawaii,” Smith explains. “We have to bring (Lori) back from Hawaii and once we get (her) here, we recognize the children are not going to be produced and that maybe something much more sinister is at play.”
The cases turned into a murder investigation when JJ and Tylee’s bodies were found buried on Chad Daybell’s property in June 2020.
“A murder investigation itself can be very expensive, let alone when we are trying to find anything from murder weapons to the people who are missing,” Smith says.
Death penalty cases, such as these, cost more to prosecute, according to Smith, and travel, exhibit costs, record expenses and evidence testing can be expensive.
Rexburg, Madison County and Fremont County have never had cases like this. Rachel Smith, a veteran homicide and death penalty attorney from Missouri, was brought in to help Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood and Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake in 2021.
“All of a sudden…decisions have to be made (by prosecutors) about what kind of expertise do we need that we may not have on our current staff to help prosecute (this) case,” Curtis Smith says. “Another prosecutor was brought in and that’s not uncommon to happen, even in a larger county, let alone in a smaller county like Madison County.”
COVID-19 and questions surrounding Lori Daybell’s competency played a part in extending the case, factors Smith believes likely led to additional costs.
Until last week, Chad and Lori Daybell were set to have one trial together but Judge Steven Boyce severed the cases. Lori Daybell will now stand trial alone beginning April 3 in Ada County. Prosecutors argued against moving it to Boise and said in court hearings last year that it will cost Madison and Fremont Counties an estimated $600,000 more by relocating the trial to western Idaho.
A trial date for Chad has not been scheduled but when the cases are over, taxpayers could end up paying at least $5 million – money the counties will likely never recoup.
“Let’s assume that some big drug dealer comes to town and he’s got a lot of things that you can forfeit. You can go after some forfeiture and maybe some automobiles and other things,” Smith explains. “Even in a drug case, it can be hard sometimes to recoup your money. But a murder case isn’t like a drug case where there’s a lot to forfeit or go after.”
The Madison and Fremont County Prosecutor’s Office, along with Lori and Chad Daybell’s attorney, declined to comment on the cost of the investigation.
Watch our entire interview with Smith in the video player above. You can read and watch all of our previous Daybell stories here.