BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho jury is weighing the fate of a woman charged in the slayings of her two youngest children and a romantic rival in what prosecutors say was a strange doomsday-focused plot.
Lori Vallow Daybell wanted the victims' money, so she used sex and power to manipulate her brother and a lover into carrying out the crimes, Idaho prosecutors told jurors Thursday at the close of the weekslong case. The panel of 12 jurors began deliberations shortly after 2 p.m.
“ Money, power and sex,” Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood said, urging the jury to convict Lori Vallow Daybell in the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, and her fifth husband’s previous wife Tammy Daybell.
“What does justice for these victims require? It requires a conviction on each and every count,” Wood said.
Defense attorney Jim Archibald countered that there was no evidence tying his client to the killings but plenty showing she was a loving, protective mother whose life took a sharp turn when she met her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, and fell for the “weird” apocalyptic religious claims of a cult leader.
Daybell told her they had been married in several previous lives and she was a “sexual goddess” who was supposed to help him save the world by gathering 144,000 followers so Jesus could return, Archibald said.
“Why can’t people escape religious cult figures, why can’t they break out, why can’t they break away from that mind control?” Archibald said. “Promises are marvelous to some people even if they sound like stupid gibberish to the rest of us.”
Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell are both charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft in the three killings. Prosecutors say the two worked with Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, to carry out the crimes. Cox died in December 2019 and was never charged.
The two youngest children were receiving Social Security survivor benefits from the earlier deaths of their fathers, and prosecutors say Vallow Daybell continued to collect those checks after the children were killed. Chad Daybell increased Tammy Daybell's life insurance policy, prosecutors said, and Vallow Daybell married him just two weeks after his previous wife was asphyxiated in their home.
Both defendants have pleaded not guilty. Vallow Daybell faces up to life in prison if she is convicted. Chad Daybell’s trial is still months away.
Vallow Daybell wanted to be “unencumbered by obstacles,” Wood said, including her children.
“The plan that she set in motion must end today in the verdicts you render in this trial,” Wood said.
Tylee had her whole life ahead of her, Wood told the jury, when she was killed in September 2019.
“Tylee's body was burned beyond recognition. Her body was dismembered in such a grotesque and extreme manner,” that the medical examiner couldn't determine the cause of death, Wood said. Marks on her pelvis showed she was stabbed, he said.
“JJ Vallow's voice was silenced forever by a strip of duct tape over his mouth,” just two weeks later, Wood said. “A white plastic bag was placed over his head, and secured with duct tape around and around from his forehead to his chin."
Evidence shows JJ struggled, Wood said, and at one point the boy's arms and legs were bound with duct tape.
“He stopped breathing, his heart stopped beating and he died. It was a brutal, horrific murder of a 7-year-old boy with special needs,” he said.
Vallow Daybell never reported the kids missing but continued to collect the survivor benefit checks each child was receiving because of the earlier deaths of their fathers, Wood said.
Wood said Tammy Daybell was slain between Oct. 18 and Oct. 20, 2019.
"Tammy Daybell, a loving, active mother of five and a school librarian, was murdered in her own home. She was asphyxiated in her own home,” Wood said.
Wood also reviewed the evidence and testimony presented to jurors over the past four weeks and reminded the jurors that under Idaho law, aiding and abetting, such as by helping in the planning of a crime, is the same as a person committing it herself.
Other testimony has been strange, such as when Vallow Daybell's former friend Melanie Gibb testified that Vallow Daybell believed people in her life had been taken over by evil spirits and turned into “zombies” — including her two youngest kids. Four of the people the defendant described as “zombies” were later killed or shot at, according to the testimony.
It has also been gruesome, such as when law enforcement officers testified about finding JJ and Tylee's remains buried in Chad Daybell's yard. JJ's body had been wrapped in duct tape and plastic, and Tylee's remains had been destroyed and burned with her bones showing evidence of chopping or stabbing marks, the witnesses said. Hair belonging to Vallow Daybell was found on a piece of duct tape used to wrap JJ, a DNA analyst testified.
Vallow Daybell's defense did not call any witnesses, and Vallow Daybell declined to testify. Instead, Archibald asserted that prosecutors had not proven their case, suggesting that there was not enough evidence to find beyond a reasonable doubt that she committed a crime.
“Of the 15,000 texts you have in evidence, show me one where Lori is part of that conspiracy,” Archibald said in closing arguments.
The case began in July 2019, when Vallow Daybell's then-husband, Charles Vallow, was shot and killed by her brother, Alex Cox, at his home in a Phoenix suburb. Lori and Charles were estranged, and he had filed divorce documents claiming that she believed she was a goddess sent to usher in the Biblical apocalypse.
At the time, Cox told police he acted in self-defense, and he was never charged in connection with the death. Cox died later that year of what authorities determined were natural causes. Lori Vallow Daybell was later charged in Arizona in connection with Charles Vallow's death; she has not yet had the opportunity to enter a plea in that case.
According to prosecutors, Vallow Daybell was already in a relationship with Chad Daybell, who was still married to his wife, Tammy Daybell, at the time. She moved to eastern Idaho with her brother and kids to be closer to Chad Daybell.
The children were last seen alive in September of 2019. Police discovered they were missing a month later after an extended family member became worried that she wasn’t able to get ahold of JJ. Their bodies were found the following summer.
The case has garnered widespread interest not just in Idaho but around the world, and the judge banned cameras from the courtroom in an effort to limit pretrial publicity. The trial was also moved to the capital city of Boise, where 1,800 potential jurors were called and winnowed to a panel of 18 people.
Rebecca Boone, The Associated Press