Defense: Chad Daybell didn’t steal money from wife’s dead children

Apr 17, 2024, 8:29 PM | Updated: Apr 18, 2024, 5:57 am

BOISE, Idaho — On the fifth day of Chad Daybell’s murder trial Wednesday, the courtroom’s focus turned to an alleged plot to steal money meant for Lori Vallow Daybell‘s two murdered children.

Daybell is charged with murdering Joshua “JJ” Vallow, Tylee Ryan, plus his wife Tammy Daybell, and is facing counts of conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft by deception for the two kids, and insurance fraud on Tammy Daybell’s life insurance policies.

A Rexburg Police Detective and an FBI forensic accountant took the stand Wednesday, laying down almost identical bank paper trails and timelines showing Vallow Daybell swindled Social Security benefits that were meant for JJ and Tylee after they were murdered.

The prosecution questioned additional evidence regarding Daybell, possibly linking him to the crime of conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft by deception that Vallow Daybell was already convicted of.

Vallow Daybell was found guilty of grand theft for pocketing her slain children’s Social Security benefits, a charge Daybell is not facing.

Click here for complete coverage of the Chad Daybell trial

Collecting Social Security of murdered children

The first of the two witnesses to take the stand Wednesday was Detective Sgt. Chuck Kunsaitis with the Investigations Division at Rexburg Police Department.

Prosecutor Rob Wood spent the whole morning admitting numerous documents into evidence, sifting through financial statements and bank transactions for Vallow Daybell, Tylee, Alex Cox and Daybell. Most of the focus stayed on Tylee and Vallow Daybell’s financial paper trails.

The court also dug into text messages, emails, and travel itineraries connected to Daybell.

Kunsaitis originally investigated JJ and Tylee’s disappearance in 2019 and explained what he discovered as he tried to locate the children.

Going through Tylee’s financial history before and after she went missing, he said they found Vallow Daybell switched the direct deposit of Tylee’s Social Security benefits from Tylee’s account to Vallow Daybell’s bank account and began collecting her daughter’s money on Aug. 18, 2019.

“Was there anything significant about that to you?” Wood asked.

“We learned that, our investigation, we believe that Tylee was killed 10 days later,” Kunsaitis answered.

He also explained how Tylee’s bank card from a joint account with her mother was used after the teen’s death, as well as her Venmo account.

In going through JJ’s Social Security benefits after the murder of his adopted father and Lori Vallow’s late husband, Charles Vallow, Kunsaitis explained how they could see those started coming in around mid-September.

“JJ was killed two days later, around the 22nd or 23rd,” Kunsaitis said, getting choked up and pausing as he spoke.

He continued, saying investigators could see that Tylee’s personal bank account and card usage nearly halted around the time she died. They could also see that Vallow Daybell transferred all the money to her account and closed the original account completely weeks after Tylee was last seen alive.

The prosecution dipped into Cox’s financial statements but did not explore it too deeply other than to establish that he began to purchase firearms and firearm-related items in August 2019.

After quickly submitting, but not discussing Daybell’s financial accounts, Wood then brought up a letter Daybell allegedly wrote to a landlord in Hawaii after the children and his wife were murdered.

Kunsaitis read the email: “Would the owners be interested in leasing this property to a clean couple with no pets or children?”

He pointed out that the email, sent on Nov. 8, 2019, was “odd” because it stated the couple did not have kids.

Wood spent a good deal of time going through travel itineraries, showing that Vallow Daybell purchased flights for Daybell to visit her during the time they were both married and for herself to fly up to Idaho where Daybell lived.

Kunsaitis walked through a complete timeline of travel, which included Daybell booking a flight to Hawaii five days after his wife Tammy was killed. That flight, which was just a couple weeks after Tammy’s death, was for Daybell and Vallow Daybell to marry.

‘Not a reflection on Chad Daybell’

During the defense’s cross-examination of Kunsaitis, Daybell’s attorney, John Prior, spoke charismatically and often looked directly at the jury, animated as he raised his voice and emphasized questions.

Through his questioning, Prior implied the possibility that Daybell was using the flights Vallow Daybell booked for business trips.

He then, through a pointed question, wondered if Kunsaitis was using Daybell’s travel timeline as a way to “get a reaction from the jury.”

Prior also distanced Daybell from bank charges at Costa Vida on Tylee’s joint account card after her death, and said that cell phone data shows Cox at the Costa Vida location.

“You’re not suggesting Mr. Daybell was there, are you?” Prior asked.

“That’s unknown,” Kunsaitis answered.

Prior asked if Daybell and Vallow Daybell ever had a joint bank account. Kunsaitis responded, “no.”

Prior then clarified that there’s no information to suggest that Daybell took any of the funds from the Social Security of Tylee or JJ, and that those allegations have to do with Vallow Daybell. Kunsaitis agreed.

“The issues of all that Social Security and the money that was taken is just a reflection on Lori Vallow, it’s not a reflection on Chad Daybell, is it?” Prior asked.

“Correct,” Kunsaitis responded.

On re-direct, Wood asked Kunsaitis if Vallow Daybell continued collecting the Social Security money when she and Daybell were married. Kunsaitis confirmed that was the case.

Timelines and totals

The prosecution called the second and final witness of the day, FBI Forensic Accountant Michael Douglass, who also investigated bank account history and Social Security benefits.

He went through the timelines he created, which matched up with what Kunsaitis spoke about.

Douglass brought up a July 18, 2019 text — after Charles Vallow was murdered — where Vallow Daybell texted Daybell saying she wouldn’t receive Charles Vallow’s life insurance money, but would get $4,000 a month in Social Security benefits.

He also outlined how Vallow Daybell had a $2 million life insurance policy, but changed it to make her only surviving son, Colby Ryan, the sole beneficiary, leaving off JJ and Tylee.

Douglass’ timeline also included a text sent from Tylee’s phone after her death to her brother Colby, stating that mom gets her money now.

He brought up the wind direction search made on Daybell’s Gmail account, the day it’s believed Tylee was last alive, and the day before detectives think her body was burned on his property.

Going through a timeline of the months leading up to JJ’s death, Douglass talked about Vallow Daybell posting JJ’s service dog for sale before he died, in addition to many other date points.

The grand total of Social Security benefits that Vallow Daybell collected after the children’s deaths, Douglass said, was $22,545.05.

Chad Daybell’s trial will continue Wednesday with Douglass still on the stand.

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Defense: Chad Daybell didn’t steal money from wife’s dead children