Chad Daybell trial: Three things to know as jurors weigh death penalty decision

May 30, 2024, 7:02 PM | Updated: 7:23 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – A jury in Idaho found Chad Daybell guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in the deaths of his first wife, Tammy Daybell, and the two youngest children of Lori Vallow Daybell.

But the jurors’ work is far from over. Now they’re being asked a different question: Should Daybell die for those crimes?

Click here for complete coverage of the Chad Daybell trial

Here are three things to know about the next phase of the trial and about other death penalty cases in Idaho:

1. Jurors to consider new evidence

The jury will now consider aggravating and mitigating factors, weighing not just the facts of his crimes.

They’ll hear new evidence about his life, character and mental health, said Robin Maher, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit tracking capital murder cases and executions across the country.

“They also bring their own perspectives and their own common sense to the equation,” Maher said of the jury. “At some point people are thinking about whether this is going to make sense not only for the victim family, for the defendant, but also for the community. I think it’d be very difficult for those thoughts not to occur to jurors.”

If the jury decides Daybell won’t get the death penalty, Idaho law permits the judge to sentence Daybell to life in prison without the possibility of parole, or to a term of up to life in prison with potential release after ten years.

2. Idaho’s death row

Eight people – seven men and one woman – are now on death row in the state. Idaho halted the execution of a serial killer in February after medics could not find a vein for lethal injection.

Thomas Eugene Creech was convicted of five murders across several states and was sentenced to to die for the beating death of a fellow inmate, David Dale Jensen, in 1981. Attorneys for Creech called it a “badly botched execution attempt.”

Idaho has executed just three people since 1976. The most recent was Richard Leavitt, put to death by lethal injection in 2012 for the brutal stabbing death of Danette Elg, a 31-year-old woman from Blackfoot, in 1984.

In Idaho and nationally, the number of people sentenced to die for their crimes has dropped significantly in the last 30 years, Maher said.

“The trend has definitely been away from the use of the death penalty, toward abolition,” Maher said.

Nationally, the number of death sentences handed down each year has dropped drastically. (Courtesy: Death Penalty Information Center)

3. A new method of execution – on hold

Idaho approved death by firing squad last year, allowing it as a means of execution if drugs for lethal injections aren’t available. The state set aside $750,000 to renovate an execution chamber to accommodate the method, but that hasn’t happened yet.

Idaho’s Department of Correction has said that contractors qualified for the job “have expressed their unwillingness to work on a project related to executions.”

In a statement to KSL TV Thursday, the department said its efforts to get the construction done are ongoing and “we do not have a timeline that we can share.”

Utah similarly brought back the firing squad as an option in 2015 after doing away with it in 2004.

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Chad Daybell trial: Three things to know as jurors weigh death penalty decision