Idaho Mom Lori Vallow Daybell Found Guilty of Murdering Her Children
Following a six-week murder trial at the Ada County courthouse, a Boise, Idaho jury found Lori Vallow Daybell, the subject of the Netflix true crime docuseries, Sins of the Mother, guilty of murdering two of her children, conspiracy to murder her husband's first wife, and grand theft. It took the jury less than seven hours of deliberating to reach its unanimous verdict.
Not to take anything away from a skillful, meticulous prosecution, but Vallow Daybell couldn't have made it harder for her defense team. A few examples should be enough to make the point.
The case concerns the disappearance of two of Vallow Daybell's children, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua "J.J." Vallow. You can read more details about the mother's complicated relationship history and background of criminal charges in our blog from last month.
In November 2019, J.J.'s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock, reported the two children missing. Police officers with the Rexburg Police Department in Idaho went to the apartment complex where Vallow Daybell lived with her husband Chad Daybell to perform a welfare check—where they ended up executing search warrants. They questioned Vallow Daybell about her missing children. She responded that her kids were with family in Arizona, but the police didn't believe her. They returned the following day with a search warrant—only to find the couple gone.
In February 2020, Vallow Daybell was arrested in Hawaii on an Idaho warrant. Authorities noted that she had failed to cooperate with the police in a multistate effort to find Tylee and J.J. In June 2020, investigators discovered human remains buried on Daybell's Idaho property. We'll spare you the grisly details, but those remains were later identified as the missing kids.
Nearly a year later, an Idaho grand jury indicted Vallow Daybell for the first-degree murder of her two children, for grand theft related to the appropriation of her kids' Social Security survivor benefits after they went missing, and additionally for conspiring to murder her husband's previous wife, Tammy Daybell (more on that below). She pleaded not guilty to all charges. At first, a lot of back and forth concerning her mental health and multiple psychological evaluations kept delaying the legal proceedings. Finally, after a ten-month stint in an Idaho mental health facility, she was deemed fit to stand trial.
Over the course of the six-week trial, the government called about 60 witnesses to testify against Vallow Daybell, and submitted numerous pieces of physical evidence. "Money, power, and sex—that's what this case is about," said Fremont County prosecutor Lindsey Blake. We'll get to the why in a second, but let's turn to the evidence that the government had against the defendant mother.
Circumstantial evidence can be just as powerful as direct evidence. Lucky for prosecutors, there was no shortage of circumstantial evidence linking Vallow Daybell to the murders.
For one, who lies to the police about the whereabouts of their kids and then immediately flees the state? Not to mention the fact that their mother failed to ever report them missing—even when people were asking about them.
There are also the circumstances surrounding Vallow Daybell's marriage to Chad Daybell—who was her fifth husband, by the way. It took place a few weeks after the death of his wife, Tammy. Tammy's death was initially determined to be from natural causes, but after the kids' remains were found on the Daybells' property, folks got suspicious. The authorities exhumed her body to conduct another autopsy, after which they concluded that she had, in fact, died of asphyxiation. When prosecutors learned that Chad Daybell had taken life insurance out on his former wife shortly before her death, they put two and two together.
Tammy wasn't the only former spouse of the couple who had died under suspicious circumstances. Vallow Daybell's fourth husband, Charles Vallow, was shot dead by her brother, Alex Cox, in July 2019 at his home in Chandler, Arizona. Cox claimed that Charles had attacked him with a baseball bat and that he feared for his life, claiming self-defense. Vallow Daybell told police that although she didn't witness the shooting, she heard the gunshot and saw Charles on the ground. Instead of helping him, she left the scene and went to Burger King. Vallow Daybell is currently being charged in Arizona with conspiracy to murder Charles. Cox died suddenly soon after the incident, and so was not alive to face charges.
Oh, and we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the 15,000 or so text messages that Lori and Chad exchanged before the deaths of Tammy and the kids. Some of the messages discussed demons inhabiting the kids' bodies, complaining that they were "weary" of caring for the demons. Vallow Daybell asked Daybell to "please ask the Lord to take them," and inquired if there were a "perfectly orchestrated plan to take the children." Daybell confirmed, "[t]here is a plan being orchestrated for the children."
Behold the power of circumstantial evidence. The most that Vallow Daybell's lawyer could do during closing arguments was to argue that his client never flat-out admitted in the texts to killing the kids.
Though the prosecution could have gotten a conviction on just circumstantial evidence alone, they also had plenty of direct evidence.
When investigators executed their November 2019 search warrant at Vallow Daybell's apartment complex, they discovered a treasure trove of physical evidence. They found survivalist supplies, including guns, ammunition, knives, Hazmat suits, and emergency go-bags. The search of the garage also produced plastic bags containing J.J.'s toys and prescription medication.
But there's more. Investigators also found a particularly compelling piece of direct evidence: a hair on a piece of duct tape used to tie up J.J. that matched Vallow Daybell's DNA profile.
And we can't forget the elephant in the room: law enforcement found the kids' bodies, burnt and dismembered, on Daybell's property.
With all of this evidence, Vallow Daybell's defense attorney never had a chance. His choice not to call any witnesses to testify in her defense may be criticized by some, but the simple explanation is that there seems to have been no one to call who could vindicate her.
Though a Mother Forsake Her Child
Now, the "why?". We may never know the true reasons why Vallow Daybell killed her kids, as she chose not to testify. But the theory offered by the prosecutors—one which drew the nationwide attention of true crime buffs—was that she was motivated by her extreme, cult-like religious beliefs.
According to Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood, the saga began in October 2018, when then-Lori Vallow met Chad Daybell. Daybell was a doomsday fiction author. The two met at a conference, and soon developed a romantic relationship. They seem to have fed off each other.
Over time, Vallow Daybell allegedly came to believe that she was a "goddess" who could perceive people's souls on a gradient from light to dark. She believes she was on a mission to gather the 144,000 from the Book of Revelation in anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. People with dark souls—including her children—were thought to be housing "zombies." For the children to get to heaven, the zombies would need to be exorcised. This could only be done by destroying their earthly bodies, or so their mother allegedly thought.
This explains why many were questioning Vallow Daybell's fitness to stand trial, and all of the hold-up due to psychiatric evaluations. But we note here that Idaho does not recognize an insanity defense, nor did the defense raise mental health as an issue at trial.
Vallow Daybell Faces Life Imprisonment
Idaho District Judge Steven Boyce granted Vallow Daybell's motion to take the death penalty off the table, so the maximum sentence she faces is life in prison without parole. She is being transferred from Ada County to Fremont County for sentencing. In the meantime, she is being housed in Madison County, where female inmates from Fremont County are held. J.J.'s grandparents, the Woodcocks, plan to attend.
Given the nature of the murder charges, the sheer volume of evidence, and Vallow Daybell's apparent lack of remorse, it seems hard to believe that she would receive anything other than the maximum penalty. Nothing short of that would serve justice for Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow.
- What You Need to Know About the Lori Vallow Case (FindLaw's Courtside Blog)
- How to Talk About True Crime Without Getting Sued (FindLaw's Courtside Blog)
- Lawyers Taking Up a Life of True Crime (FindLaw's Don't Judge Me Podcast)
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