The Idaho jury convicted Lori Vallow Daybell of murdering two children, a romantic rival

Boise, Idaho • An Idaho jury on Friday convicted Lori Vallow Daybell of the murders of her two youngest children and a romantic rival. The verdict marks the end of a three-year investigation that included bizarre claims about zombie children, apocalyptic prophecies and illicit affairs.

Vallow Daybell showed no facial expression as the verdict was read. Some in the courtroom wiped tears from their eyes.

Prosecutors in the case described Vallow Daybell as a power-hungry manipulator who would kill her two youngest children for money, while the defense team said she was typically a protective mother who fell under the romantic influence of a would-be cult leader.

The jury listened to both stories Thursday during the closing hearings of the seven-week trial and deliberated for about four hours before taking a break for the evening. They resumed deliberations on Friday morning and came to a verdict that was announced just after noon.

Vallow Daybell was convicted of conspiring to commit the murders of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, and Tammy Daybell. She was also convicted of grand larceny and first-degree murder of the two children, charges that suggest a more direct involvement in the crimes.

Vallow Daybell’s fifth husband, Chad Daybell, faces the same charges but his trial is months away.

Prosecutors say the two worked with Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, to commit the crimes. Cox died in December 2019 and was never charged.

(Kyle Green | AP) Lori Vallow Daybell speaks with her attorneys before the jury’s verdict is read Friday, May 12, 2023 at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho.

Vallow Daybell faces a sentence of life in prison, which a judge says has at least three months to go.

JJ’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock, held an emotional press conference outside of court and at one point Larry Woodcock began singing the Willie Neslon song “The Party’s Over.”

“JJ, I love you,” he said, choking. “It started with two children. I said, “Where are the children?” Where are the children? … Give me back my children,” he said. “It’s not the end yet.”

Prosecutors said they could not comment on the verdict because of the pending charges against Chad Daybell. In a statement, they thanked the jury for their services and said they “remain committed to fighting for justice for Tylee Ryan, JJ Vallow and Tammy Daybell.”

Vallow Daybell wanted the victims’ money, so she used sex and power to manipulate her brother and lover into committing the crimes, Madison County Attorney Rob Wood told the jury during closing arguments.

“Money, power and sex,” Wood said, echoing the arguments his team made early in the process. He claimed that Vallow Daybell merely viewed the three victims as obstacles to their goals.

“What does justice require for these victims? It requires conviction on every level,” Wood said.

Defense attorney Jim Archibald countered that there was no evidence linking his client to the murders, but plenty showing that she was a loving, caring mother whose life took a sharp turn when she met her fifth husband , Chad Daybell, and fell in love with the “strange” apocalyptic Religious Claims of a Cult Leader. He suspected that Daybell and Cox were responsible for the deaths and that Vallow Daybell’s only crime was lying to the police about where her children were.

Daybell told her that they had been married in several previous lives and that she was a “sexual goddess” who would help him save the world by gathering 144,000 followers so that Jesus could return, Archibald said.

“Why can’t people escape religious cult figures, why can’t they break free, why can’t they break free from this mind control?” Archibald said. “Promises are wonderful to some people, even if they sound like silly gibberish to the rest of us.”

(Rebecca Boone | AP) Media and other onlookers await the verdict in Lori Vallow Daybell’s trial on Friday, May 12, 2023, in Boise, Idaho.

Testimony in the case was heartbreaking at times — like when Vallow Daybell’s only surviving child, Colby Ryan, made a recorded prison call accusing her of murdering his siblings.

Other testimonies were odd, such as when Vallow Daybell’s former girlfriend, Melanie Gibb, testified that Vallow Daybell believed people in her life had been taken over by evil spirits and turned into “zombies” – including JJ and Tylee. Four of the people, whom the accused described as “zombies,” were later killed or shot at, according to the statement.

It was also gruesome, like when police officers said they found JJ and Tylee’s remains in Chad Daybell’s yard.

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,” Wood said, that the coroner was unable to determine the cause of death. Marks on her pelvis showed she had been stabbed, he said.

“JJ Vallow’s voice was permanently silenced by a strip of duct tape over his mouth,” Wood said just two weeks later. “A white plastic bag was placed over his head and taped from forehead to chin.”

There was evidence that JJ had difficulties, Wood said, and at one point the boy’s arms and legs were duct taped.

“He stopped breathing, his heart stopped and he died. “It was a brutal, horrific murder of a seven-year-old boy with special needs,” he said.

Vallow Daybell never reported the children missing but continued to confiscate the survivor’s money checks each child received as a result of their fathers’ earlier deaths, Wood said.

Wood said Tammy Daybell was murdered between October 18 and October 20, 2019.

Defense attorneys countered that Vallow Daybell wasn’t even in state when Tammy Daybell was killed. She’s been to Hawaii visiting friends, he said.

Archibald did not call witnesses at the trial and Vallow Daybell declined to testify. Instead, Archibald claimed that prosecutors had failed to prove her case, suggesting that there was insufficient evidence to determine with certainty that she committed a crime.

“Out of the 15,000 texts you have in evidence, show me one where Lori is part of this conspiracy,” Archibald said in his closing argument.

Under Idaho law, conspiracy to commit murder carries the same penalty as committing murder. Wood reminded the jury of this law, noting that aiding and abetting a crime is the same as committing it.

The case began in July 2019 when Vallow Daybell’s then-husband Charles Vallow was shot dead by her brother Alex Cox at his home in suburban Phoenix. The husband and wife were estranged and he had filed divorce papers claiming 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 was never charged in connection with the death. Cox died later that year of natural causes. Vallow Daybell was later charged in Arizona in connection with Charles Vallow’s death; In this case, she has not yet had the opportunity to file a lawsuit.

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 east Idaho with her brother and children to be closer to Chad Daybell.

The children were last seen alive in September 2019. A month later, police discovered they were missing after another family member became concerned. Their bodies were found the following summer.

The case has garnered significant interest not just in Idaho but around the world, and the judge banned cameras from the courtroom to limit publicity before the trial. The trial was also moved to the capital, Boise, where 1,800 would-be jurors were called and assigned to a panel of 18.

Justin Scaccy

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