Coroner describes changing Tammy Daybell’s cause of death to homicide

Apr 24, 2024, 3:36 PM | Updated: 6:20 pm

BOISE — Brenda Dye, the Fremont County coroner, testified Wednesday that as she was responding to Tammy Daybell‘s death, she got multiple calls asking when she would get there because Chad Daybell was “very distraught.”

Dye said he was very upset and walking around when she arrived at the home.

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After observing the body’s cold temperature, bruises she identified at the time as “old,” rigor mortis, pink foam at her mouth, and blood pooling in the body showing Tammy Daybell had died on her back, Dye said she asked Daybell about his wife’s medical history.

He reported that his wife had been up in the night coughing and had thrown up, and that he helped her back to bed, Dye recalled. Then he said he woke up because she fell off the bed and pulled the blankets off him, and that’s when he noticed she was dead.

At the time, the coroner said she believed Daybell’s explanation that he could have caused his wife to fall by moving blankets, but looking back on it she determined that it would take more force than that to roll a body out of bed.

“If someone’s dead, they can’t roll out of bed. … If someone’s dead, they can’t move,” Dye said.

Daybell is on trial for first-degree murder in the deaths of Lori Vallow Daybell‘s children — 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan — and the death of his former wife, Tammy Daybell, in late 2019. He is also charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder of each of the victims, grand theft and two counts of insurance fraud. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

Dye testified that she signed a medical certificate at the time of Tammy Daybell’s death that said she died of pulmonary edema due to a cardiac event. She said that made sense with Chad Daybell’s reports that she had low blood pressure and fainting spells and had been feeling off for a few months. Dye also took into account that there were natural remedies in the cupboard, and Chad Daybell had said his wife chose not to see a doctor.

Chad Daybell did not voice an opinion about an autopsy, Dye testified, but his daughter, Emma, did not want one performed. Still, Dye said this was not a factor in her decision that an autopsy was not needed; she said it was up to her and not the family.

Exhumation and autopsy

Two months later, after Tammy Daybell’s body was exhumed from a cemetery in Utah, Dye was present for the autopsy and said findings from that autopsy changed her mind. She said Tammy Daybell’s bruise on her arm was “very deep,” her stomach contents did not match her husband’s report that she had thrown up, and her vital organs looked healthy except her lungs, which were full of pink foam.

“There shouldn’t have been foam in the lungs still,” she said.

Following the autopsy, she amended the cause of death to homicide, specifically asphyxiation by suffocation.

Dye said she was contacted by police in Arizona after Chad Daybell’s name was connected to a homicide and attempted murder they were investigating. She said if she had known that information, it may have changed her decisions, but she did the best she could with the information she had at the time.

John Prior, Chad Daybell’s attorney, asked Dye if she was going on a “fishing expedition” and looking for a reason to change the death certificate and label the death as a homicide.

She said she changed it both because of the results of the autopsy and because of the presence of two dead children on Chad Daybell’s property.

Dye’s testimony followed testimony from Rexburg police officer Alyssa Greenhalgh, who arrived at the scene first. She also said Chad Daybell was distraught.

“He was sobbing and then would gasp for air,” she said.

Jurors on Tuesday also saw pictures of Tammy Daybell’s body and heard Chad Daybell’s 911 call reporting that she had died.

Daybell did not seem distraught when the photos were shown of his wife’s body in their bed during the trial, but he did show more emotion than he had during much of the trial. He sat with his arms folded and looked at the photos with his attorney. When one photo was shown of her body in the morgue, he shook his head back and forth.

Friends, coworkers say Tammy was healthy

Multiple friends and coworkers of Tammy Daybell testified that they were shocked by her death. They said she had recently attended exercise classes with them and had seemed healthy when interacting with them at the school.

Kelsie Harris said Tammy Daybell was a student in her clogging class that had met once a week in the months before her death. They also both worked at Central Elementary.

“We were friends; we would see each other at class … and at the school and have conversation — more than just a ‘hello,'” she said.

She said Tammy Daybell had not expressed concerns about her health to her. She said Tammy Daybell was very fit.

Shanna Miller and Jennifer Geisler, who both also worked at the elementary school, testified about attending a high-intensity fitness class with Tammy Daybell and her daughter in the months before her death. Geisler said they attended for at least four months and seemed to keep up with the class.

Geisler said Tammy Daybell loved the class and thought it was fun, saying she and her daughter would be “giggly” in the back and would add their own moves in.

Miller said Daybell’s death was a “complete shock,” and Geisler said she was “super surprised.”

Both said she seemed happy and healthy when they talked to her at work the day before.

Bruce Mattingly, a detective with the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, testified that officers reported that Tammy Daybell’s daughter, Emma Murray, had said she was falling behind in a fitness class. He said, however, that he was not able to interview her to confirm that.

Mattingly also testified about a life insurance beneficiary form filled out by Chad Daybell that said Tammy’s health problems began on Oct. 18, 2019, the day before her death, and that she attended work that day as well.

He said records were requested from Fitbit after a fitness-tracking device was noticed in photos from the response to Tammy Daybell’s death. He said the data showed her heart rate, sleep patterns and activity. He said they wanted to narrow down her exact time of death. Mattingly previously testified during Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial that the information showed Tammy Daybell was in good health.

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Coroner describes changing Tammy Daybell’s cause of death to homicide