Jury finds Lori Vallow Daybell guilty of murdering 2 of her children : NPR
John Roark/The Idaho Post-Register via AP, Pool, File
A jury found Lori Vallow Daybell guilty of murdering her two sons and conspiring to kill a romantic rival. The verdict was read aloud in court shortly after 3 pm ET, and jurors were dismissed moments later.
A sentencing hearing has not yet been set — it could be several months before one can be held, Judge Steven Boyce said. Vallow Daybell, 49, could face life in prison. She and her husband, Chad Daybell, 54, were indicted on multiple charges two years ago, but are being tried separately.
The reading of the verdict was broadcast live from the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho — a departure from the main phase of the trial, when Boyce declared that the daily proceedings would be shown only via audio, to avoid the release of sensitive and disturbing images.
Prosecutors spent weeks building their case against Vallow Daybell, showing jurors graphic images from the scene where her children’s bodies were found. The trial spanned more than a month – but in a stunning move, Vallow Daybell’s defense team chose not to call a single witness, resting its case minutes after the prosecution finished its presentation.
The jury started deliberating on Thursday afternoon, on a case that attracted a lot of attention. Prosecutors cite Vallow Daybell’s religious beliefs about zombies and an impending doomsday as partial motives for the alleged murders of her two youngest children and her husband’s former wife.
Here is a brief summary of the history of Vallow Daybell, and the killing process:
What is charged Vallow Daybell?
Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell were indicted in May 2021 on nine criminal charges, including murder and/or conspiracy charges in three deaths.
Vallow Daybell is accused of killing her two younger sons, Tylee Ryan and Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow. Tylee was almost 17 years old when she and JJ, 7, was last seen alive in September 2019. The children’s bodies were found in June 2020, buried on property in Rexburg, Idaho, owned by Chad Daybell.
Even before the remains were found, Vallow Daybell was charged with felony child desertion and obstruction. Prosecutors accuse her of not reporting her children missing so she could continue collecting benefits.
She is also accused of conspiring to kill Tammy Daybell, Chad’s then-wife who was found dead in her home in October 2019 — less than a month before he and Vallow were married in Hawaii. He is the fifth husband of Vallow Daybell.
Jo a separate case in ArizonaVallow Daybell was also charged with conspiracy to murder charges for allegedly arranging for her brother, Alex Cox, to shoot and kill her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, in July 2019. Alex Cox died in December 2019, of those determined to be natural causes.
What happened during the process?
The state called dozens of witnesses and repeatedly showed jurors disturbing pictures that showed the horrific conditions of Tylee and JJ’s bodies. Tylee’s body was burned and dismembered; JJ’s body was wrapped in plastic, with his wrists and ankles bound. A plastic bag was duct-taped over his head.
Much of the evidence in the trial was circumstantial, including dozens of text messages from Vallow Daybell’s phone. But a DNA expert also testified that a hair attached to a segment of duct tape on JJ’s body was found to match his mother.
Rather than calling its own witnesses, the defense tried – and failed – to get the judge to rule that the prosecution had not presented enough evidence to ask the jury to return a verdict.
“Your honor, I don’t believe the state has proven its case, so the defense will rest,” defense attorney James Archibald he said on Tuesday. But Boyce decided there was enough evidence to proceed.
The prosecution says that the entire relationship of Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell is tied up in a deadly criminal conspiracy which they tried to justify with fantastical beliefs. Instead of simply starting a new life together after meeting in October 2018, prosecutors say, the couple planned to kill their closest relatives and profit from their deaths through insurance payments and Social Security benefits.
In his closing argument, Archibald said his client was in the power of a man she sees as her messiah and eternal soul mate. He also said that prosecutors failed to directly link Vallow Daybell to the deaths of her children. DNA evidence such as a hair on a piece of tape, Archibald said, could have resulted from a mother’s normal behavior.
How does her belief factor into the case?
Lori Vallow went from a “suburban mom in yoga pants” to someone caught up in an extreme subculture, said Oregon-based journalist Leah Sottile.
“In my reporting I found that Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell really existed on the fringes, the far right fringes of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” Sottile told the member station. Boise State Public Radio“and that they… sort of could meet because of this ecosystem of extremism that exists there.”
Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake told jurors that Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell portrayed themselves as religious figures called “James and Elaina.” Blake said that they proved that they can “assess” people, by discovering if they can be under the power of the dark energy of an evil spirit.
“The defendant used ‘casting’ which involved prayer and energy work,” Blake told the jury, according to Eastern Idaho News. “Many times this casting did not work and the belief evolved to zombies. A common theme was that the body had to be destroyed.”
Vallow Daybell and Daybell were focused on “end times” and doomsday scenarios, prosecutors said, and shared beliefs about people manifesting dark energy.
During the trial and in their an accusationprosecutors cited messages between the pair “about the percentage of death for Tammy” Daybell, as well as messages about her limbo, and Tammy “being possessed by a spirit named Viola.”
The zombie story came out in 2020
In 2020, a Rexburg police detective Ron Ball said in an affidavit that Vallow Daybell’s close friend, Melanie Gibb, described hearing her say that Tylee had become a zombie — a concept Vallow Daybell picked up from Daybell.
Gibb heard Vallow Daybell call Tylee a zombie — after Tylee had refused to babysit JJ — to which Tylee replied, “Not me, mom,” according to the affidavit. Gibb said that Vallow Daybell later concluded that JJ had also become a zombie.
Daybell and Vallow Daybell told Gibb they were part of the “Church of the First Born” and had a special mission, guided by the Book of Revelation, Gibb told the detective.
“They also stated that their mission was to rid the world of ‘zombies,'” Ball wrote.
In their eyes, zombies are controlled by dark spirits – and the host body can only be released through physical death, Ball added.
“Gibb was present with Lori Vallow when Chad Daybell first instructed Lori on his zombie theories. by phone in early 2019 in reference to Charles Vallow,” Ball wrote. Months later, Charles Vallow was killed.
Money is also a big part of the case
“The defendant used money, power and sex to get what she wanted,” Blake said in court, according to The Associated Press. “It doesn’t matter what it was.”
Prosecutors say Vallow Daybell and Daybell benefited from the three deaths by sending money to themselves in the form of federal benefits and insurance payments. Their goal, Blake said, was to create a new life, free from their relatives.
Charges against Vallow Daybell include grand theft, with the US government as the victim, after she received Social Security funds intended for the care of Tylee Ryan and JJ Vallow and failed to report Tylee’s death.
Prosecutors also said that shortly before his wife died unexpectedly at the age of 49, Chad Daybell signed paperwork to boost her life insurance to the maximum allowed by the policy. An autopsy later determined that she is he had been asphyxiated.