Editor’s Note: Some testimony contains graphic descriptions. Reader discretion is advised.
The trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, accused along with her husband Chad Daybell in the murders of her children and Daybell’s first wife, concluded its third week Friday as the prosecution continues to build its case.
Prosecutors say the couple used “doomsday” beliefs involving zombies to justify murdering the children, along with Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell.
Vallow Daybell’s daughter, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, and adopted son Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, were declared missing in 2019 after relatives could not get in touch with the children. They were found in 2020 on Chad Daybell’s property, whom their mother had married after the death of Daybell’s wife Tammy.
The couple, who are being tried separately, are accused in the three murders. Vallow Daybell also faces theft charges for allegedly collecting Social Security payments on behalf of her children.
Both Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell have pleaded not guilty to all charges.
Witnesses for the prosecution discussed the couple’s fringe religious beliefs and their blooming relationship as their spouses each died, as well as details about finding the children’s bodies. Here are some of the most compelling moments of testimony so far.
JJ Vallow’s grandfather Larry Woodcock weeps as Det. Ray Hermosillo describes finding the boy’s body
Det. Ray Hermosillo, an investigator on the case with the Rexburg, Idaho, Police Department, testified about law enforcement finding the children’s remains on Chad Daybell’s property as JJ Vallow’s grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, watched from the courtroom.
“As they began removing the top layer of soil, it began to expose three large white rocks. Uh, and at that point, uh, there was a strong odor of, uh, through my training experience that was a decomposing body,” Hermosillo told the court.
He testified he saw a little boy in red pajamas — witnesses have said the last time JJ was seen alive he was wearing red pajamas — with a white plastic bag around his head and several layers of duct tape from his chin to his forehead. His arms were folded across his chest and duct taped with several layers of duct tape and his feet were also bound with duct tape, Hermosillo said.
“He had a white and blue child’s blanket, um, placed on top of him,” the detective testified.
Larry Woodcock was reportedly crying throughout the graphic testimony.
Lori Vallow Daybell calls Chad Daybell as investigators are searching his property for JJ and Tylee’s remains, recordings reveal
Prosecutors played audio of a phone call between Vallow Daybell, who at the time was being held at the Madison County Jail on child abandonment charges, and Chad Daybell while investigators were searching Daybell’s property for the children’s remains.
Jurors heard Daybell tell Vallow Daybell investigators were on the property, and he asks her to pray. He also says, “I love you.”
Melanie Gibb testifies about “evil spirits” and “zombies”
Lori Vallow Daybell’s friend Melanie Gibb told jurors that Vallow Daybell described some people as possessed or as “zombies.” Gibb said Vallow Daybell claimed some people were “light” and others were “dark,” meaning they had been possessed by evil spirits. Some of those people labeled as “dark” included Vallow Daybell’s fourth husband Charles Vallow (referred to as “Ned” — the evil spirit that supposedly took over his body), who was shot and killed by Vallow Daybell’s brother Alex Cox, and her children, Tylee and JJ, who were found buried in Chad Daybell’s backyard.
Gibb also testified that Vallow Daybell said she and Daybell had been married in past lives.
Prosecutors played a phone conversation in which Gibb confronted Vallow Daybell about JJ’s whereabouts months after she had last seen the boy. In it, Vallow Daybell says she loves Gibb “with all my heart.”
“I appreciate those words, but if you really love me, you wouldn’t have told the police that I had JJ with me. That’s not – that’s not what a friend does. I mean, that just makes me look weird and it – it just – it’s not safe for me. That doesn’t look good. You need – you had to think of my welfare if you love me,” Gibb said in the recording, which she eventually gave police.
“I do and I did exactly what I felt the Lord was instructing me to do. And I appreciate you and I love you. And I would never do anything to harm you, and you can have all of this confirmed to you by the Lord,” Vallow Daybell responded in the recorded conversation.
Zulema Pastenes, the wife of Alex Cox, testified he feared being the “fall guy”
Daybell and Vallow Daybell had convinced her brother, Alex Cox, that his divine mission was to protect her. Cox, who shot and killed Charles Vallow claiming self-defense, later told his wife Zulema Pastenes he felt the pair were making him their “fall guy.”
“I said, ‘Fall guy for what? What is it that, that you have done? What, what have you done that you would be the fall guy for?’ It was like I kept pressuring him and I was so frustrated because he wasn’t answering me,” she said. “So I would walk away and he would say something, and then I would come back and I — he was — and then I would pressure him again. And then he said — one of the times when I was walking away from him, he said — Zulema, either I am a man of God or I am not.”
That conversation, Pastenes testified, came the day before Cox died suddenly.
Friend testifies Vallow Daybell said she was “done with JJ” and claimed Charles Vallow was having an affair
April Raymond, Vallow Daybell’s former friend from Hawaii, testified about a visit from Vallow Daybell and Tylee to her home in Hawaii in early 2019, where Raymond said Vallow Daybell told her that Charles Vallow was having an affair and that she needed a place to stay.
When a prosecutor asked where JJ was, Raymond replied, “She said that she was done with JJ and that Charles and his sister Kay would need to figure it out.” Raymond also was questioned about Ned, the demon Vallow Daybell claimed was inhabiting Charles Vallow’s body.
While JJ and Tylee were missing, Chad Daybell tells a Hawaii realtor the couple has no children, emails show
Emails between Daybell and a realtor in Hawaii, introduced as part of testimony by Rexburg Police Det. Chuck Kunsaitis, note the couple is interested in seeing a property. Daybell asks if the owners would “be interested in leasing this property to a clean couple with no pets or children.”
The email was sent three days after the couple was married, and before JJ and Tylee were reported missing.
Lori Vallow Daybell’s son weeps as jailhouse phone call played in court
, the eldest and only surviving child of Lori Vallow Daybell, confronted his mother about his siblings’ deaths in an emotional phone call prosecutors played for the jury shortly after Ryan took the stand. “You’ve ripped my heart out and you’ve ripped out everyone in this family’s heart out,” he said on the call, which was made after the bodies of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan were found buried in Chad Daybell’s backyard in 2020, and after Vallow Daybell was jailed in connection with the crime.
He cried after seeing pictures of his slain siblings, and told jurors about how text messages Tylee regularly sent him changed in tone and punctuation in the weeks after she first disappeared but before she was reported missing.
In the phone call, he confronted his “murderous mother.”
“I trusted you. I gave you every chance I could, past my own limitations as a human being. I pushed past all of — everything to try to get to you, to help my own mother. You lied to me, specifically to me more times than I can count about this,” he said in the call. “To know that they’re gone and you knew? And my phone’s being texted by my little sister who’s not even alive? My little brother, who’s the sweetest little kid ever?”
During cross-examination, Vallow Daybell’s attorney asked Ryan if Vallow Daybell taught him about the alleged extreme religious beliefs raised by prosecution witnesses the previous week. Ryan replied “no” when asked if he was taught about zombies, casting out evil spirits and light and dark scales.
Lori Vallow Daybell says she “deserved to find happiness” after children’s remains found in disturbing recording played in court
Lori Vallow Daybell was heard on asaying she deserved to find happiness, as her sister, Summer Shiflet, testified. Shiflet was heard sobbing and screaming on a jailhouse call with Vallow Daybell after the children’s remains were found by police in June 2020.
“I would have taken Tylee and JJ in a heartbeat and everybody else would’ve too, you know that,” Shiflet said on the call. On the stand, Shiflet said she had a close relationship with her sister and spoke to Vallow Daybell in February 2020, two months after Vallow Daybell’s children were reported missing.
GHB found in JJ Vallow’s system, forensic pathologist reveals
Dr. Garth Warren, chief forensic pathologist with the Ada County Coroner’s office, testified that a toxicology test on a sample of JJ Vallow’s liver that was part of the boy’s autopsy revealed the child had low levels of gamma hydroxybutyric acid, a so-called party or date rape drug often called GHB, and alcohol in his system. The test also showed caffeine and theobromine, which is found in chocolate and tea.
Warren said the amount in JJ’s system was “inconclusive,” and he could not say whether he had intentionally been given the substance or it was naturally occurring.
His official cause of death was asphyxiation by a plastic bag, Warren said.
Tylee Ryan’s DNA found on pickax, expert testifies
Katherine Dace, a forensic biologist with the Idaho State Police, told the jury that they had tested samples from several tools found in Chad Daybell’s shed. A partial DNA profile from samples on one of the shovels and from a pickax, she said, matched Tylee Ryan.
Tylee Ryan’s remains were found in a grave on Chad Daybell’s property, and her body had been burned and dismembered, witnesses have testified.