Prosecutors say Lori Vallow Daybell was motivated by ‘money, power and sex’ as murder trial begins
Prosecutors reveal Tammy Daybell’s cause of death in opening arguments of the Idaho mother’s trial
The case of Lori Vallow Daybell is one of money, power and sex.
That’s according to prosecutor Lindsey A. Blake, who gave the state of Idaho’s opening argument Monday in the trial of Vallow Daybell, who is charged with conspiracy, murder and grand theft in the deaths of her two children, JJ and Tylee.
But attorneys for Vallow Daybell say it’s a story of unanswered questions.
Vallow Daybell also faces charges in the death of her new husband’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, whose cause of death was revealed for the first time as prosecutors laid out a map for the case jurors will hear over the next several weeks.
Chad Daybell, who is also charged in the three deaths, has pleaded not guilty and will face a separate trial.
“The defendant Lori Vallow Daybell used money, power and sex, or the promise of those things, to get what she wanted. What she wanted, was money, power and sex,” Blake told the jury. “It didn’t matter what obstacle she had to remove to get what she wanted ... if it was a person, it didn’t matter who.”
Her children, Blake said, were in the way. JJ, a 7-year-old, special needs child, required time, effort and energy. “That took away from what Lori wanted, which was spending time with Chad.”
Tylee, 17, was receiving Social Security benefits from the death of her father — Lori wanted that money, and now Tylee is gone, the prosecutor said.
And Tammy Daybell had a life insurance policy of which Chad Daybell was a beneficiary. “Lori wanted those things,” Blake said.
Tammy Daybell, it was revealed Monday, died by asphyxiation at the hands of another person, the prosecutor told the jury. Chad Daybell originally told police that Tammy Daybell had died in her sleep after she went to bed with a cough. Prosecutors also said that Chad had moved her body by the time first responders arrived.
For about 20 minutes, while Blake was giving the opening statement, an image of a deceased Tammy Daybell was left on the courtroom’s large screen.
One of the prosecution’s main points was that amid the death of Tammy Daybell, Lori Vallow Daybell’s estranged husband, Charles Vallow, and the disappearance of her children, Vallow Daybell not only carried on with her life, but did so seemingly without showing grief. Just 17 days after Tammy Daybell’s death, Lori and Chad held a wedding in Hawaii, exchanging rings they purchased while Tammy was still alive.
“They were getting married on a sunny beach in Hawaii, dancing and celebrating their life together, while Tylee and JJ were dead in the ground,” Blake said.
Lori Vallow Daybell’s defense
Vallow Daybell’s attorney, R. James Archibald, countered with a brief opening argument emphasizing to the jury that they are to consider the specific allegations against his client and no one else.
The publicity about the case that has tainted so many people in the county, state and country, is not evidence, he said.
The children’s disappearance put a nationwide spotlight on Vallow Daybell and her husband, including extensive news coverage, online speculation and a Netflix documentary.
During his statement, Archibald read an alibi filed on Vallow Daybell’s behalf, which claims she was in her own Rexburg apartment with her friends Melanie Gibb, David Warwick “and/or” Chad Daybell when the children were killed in an apartment belonging to her now deceased brother, Alex Cox. The statement also asserted that Vallow Daybell was in Hawaii when Tammy Daybell was killed.
Archibald also challenged jurors to consider whether prosecutors establish beyond a reasonable doubt what happened to JJ, Tylee and Tammy Daybell, and what Lori Vallow Daybell’s alleged involvement is.
“You’re here to determine if there even was a conspiracy. Cases, again, can be solved with evidence, they can be solved with a lack of evidence,” he said.
Vallow Daybell, her ankles bound by shackles, wore a black blazer-style jacket and black rimmed glasses to court. Her bright blonde hair, pictured in her now easily recognizable mugshot and subsequent news stories, is fading. She showed little emotion for much of Monday morning, including as grisly images of her two children were displayed on the screen.
Prosecutors say both JJ and Tylee’s bodies were burned — an image of Tylee’s body shows what appears to be charred remains in a shallow grave, hardly recognizable as human. Her DNA, Blake said, was discovered on a pickaxe and shovel on Chad Daybell’s property.
“That’s what was left of this beautiful young woman, the defendant’s daughter,” Blake said.
And young JJ was bound by duct tape and wrapped in a black trash bag.
“Even the most veteran law enforcement officers that you’ll hear from were disturbed by the scene,” Blake said “... this wasn’t what they were expecting to find.”
While the defense’s opening argument was relatively brief, leaning heavily on the notion of conspiracy, prosecutors, on the other hand, gave a detailed overview of Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell’s relationship that, they say, began with an instant connection.
“They talked a lot; the defendant was flirty,” Blake said, describing the couple’s shared religious beliefs that quickly spiraled, as prosecutors said they used their purported beliefs to justify their actions, from affair to murder. Vallow Daybell, with help from Chad Daybell, began telling others she could rate people on a system, declaring people light or dark. Evil spirits, they said, could push a person out and take over their body. The claims evolved to say the darkness could be so intense that the person would become a zombie.
“A common theme was the body had to be destroyed,” said Blake.
“When the defendant would talk about people being light or dark, she talked about her own daughter being dark,” Blake later said. But once Tylee disappeared, Vallow Daybell stopped talking about her and did nothing to help in the search, the prosecutor said — there were no inquires, no missing persons pictures, and no action taken by Vallow Daybell. She had the same reaction, or lack thereof, for JJ, they said.
Archibald, during his opening statement, did touch briefly on Vallow Daybell’s “end of times” beliefs, which she shared with Chad Daybell. He noted that the degree in which people value these teachings varies.
“Thankfully in this country we can worship how we choose,” Archibald told the jury.
Alex Cox, ‘the fall guy’
Cox, Vallow Daybell’s brother, frequently came up in discussions Monday. Cox died from what authorities say were natural causes in December 2019 the day after Tammy Daybell was exhumed. He was never charged in connection with the case. The night before he died, he told his wife “I hope I’m not their fall guy,” prosecutors said.
Days before Tammy Daybell’s death, Blake said Cox’s cellphone was in the area when a masked gunman confronted her in her driveway.
“He can’t do anything right,” a distressed Vallow Daybell said that same day, on the phone with an unnamed individual, according to Blake.
And Cox’s phone was also in the Daybell’s backyard around the last time Tylee was seen, near the spot where her body was later discovered. The last reported sighting of JJ, a witness reported seeing Cox carrying him in his arms. “It was peaceful,” Blake said, but JJ was never seen again.
The prosecution also touched on Cox’s close relationship with his sister, who with Chad Daybell, told him that his purpose in this life was to protect Lori Vallow Daybell. “He was a warrior, and he was here to protect Lori,” they said, according to Blake.
One of two witnesses called to testify Monday was Brandon Boudreaux, who was married to Melanie Boudreaux, Vallow Daybell’s niece and follower. According to Brandon Boudreaux, his ex-wife “had an affinity towards Lori. ... She looked at her less like an aunt figure, and more like a mom figure.”
Boudreaux had brought his kids to school in Arizona in October 2019 when someone shot at him while he was in his driveway, shattering his car window.
Boudreaux had recently divorced his wife, who he says was rapidly spiraled into believing the extremist claims of Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell. She said she spoke to God and repeatedly said she didn’t feel safe around him, he testified.
So Boudreaux moved to a new house, which he said only about five people knew the whereabouts of. Besides his neighbor, his now ex-wife would be one of the only people who knew of his location the day he was shot at. He told the prosecutors Monday that he got nervous the more he thought about it — and when he re-read emails sent from the late Charles Vallow that mentioned Chad Daybell and his recently deceased wife, he began to put the pieces together.
“In my gut, something felt wrong,” he said.
Soon he reached his own conclusion that the shooting related to the Lori Vallow Daybell, Chad Daybell and their fringe beliefs.