In the first week of testimony in the much-anticipated trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, prosecutors laid out what they believe the motive was behind a series of alleged killings.
Money, power and sex.
Vallow Daybell has made headlines worldwide as the mother with doomsday beliefs who is now charged with murder, conspiracy and grand theft in connection to the deaths of her two children and Tammy Daybell, the spouse of her fifth husband, Chad Daybell.
Chad Daybell, who is also charged in the three deaths, has pleaded not guilty and will face a separate trial.
So far, jurors at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho, have heard from police detectives and family and friends of the couple who described Vallow Daybell’s spiral and the chilling circumstances leading up to the children’s murder.
The Deseret News and KSL spent the week in the courtroom covering the trial, where video and audio recordings have been banned. From Tammy Daybell’s cause of death, to Vallow Daybell’s bizarre beliefs, here are five key takeaways in the murder case that shocked the country.
Tammy Daybell’s cause of death
Tammy Daybell died from asphyxiation at the hands of another person, prosecutors revealed Monday.
Daybell died on Oct. 19, reportedly in her sleep, and authorities originally did not suspect foul play. But almost two months later, her body was exhumed, and the results of her autopsy were not public until Monday.
Joe Powell with the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office described on Tuesday why the circumstances around Daybell’s death raised eyebrows — “She was healthy, her age, there was no sign of heart or blood pressure (problems). With her husband being with another lady so soon after.”
Prosecutors also alleged that Tammy Daybell’s “cold and stiff” body had been moved by Chad Daybell by the time law enforcement responded — and that he seemed to show no remorse.
Witnesses said Tammy Daybell was “suspicious” about her husband’s relationship with Vallow Daybell.
Texts between Lori Vallow Daybell and her now deceased husband, Charles Vallow, were also shown in court, where Charles tells Lori that he knows she is having an affair with Chad Daybell. “Your husband and my wife ... they’re having an affair,” he emailed Tammy Daybell.
JJ and Tylee’s final days
Two of Vallow Daybell’s former friends — Melanie Gibb and Zulema Pastenes — took the stand to describe the last instances Tylee and JJ were seen alive. Both women were part of Vallow Daybell’s inner circle, and on separate occasions visited her in Rexburg around the time the children went missing.
Pastenes — who was briefly married to Alex Cox, Vallow Daybell’s brother, before his death — described Vallow Daybell’s troubling belief that JJ “was going to have a very short life” and that Tylee was possessed by a “dark” spirit. She visited the family in September 2019, and when she asked Vallow Daybell where Tylee was, the mother responded “she had to be free.”
And Gibb was in Rexburg on Sept. 22, which coincides with the last known time JJ was seen alive. During that trip, she said, Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell would kiss, hug, and dance, despite Daybell’s wife still being alive.
Vallow Daybell told Gibb that JJ “had an evil spirit in him.”
“She would tell me he would say things like ‘I love Satan.’ She told me he would climb up on the refrigerator and go on top of the cabinets. He was acting just more aggressive,” she said.
On the evening of Sept. 22, Chad Daybell carried JJ upstairs and put him to bed.
“He quietly came down and I asked him why his neck was so red and he said that JJ had scratched his neck,” she said.
On June 9, 2020, police discovered the bodies of Tylee and JJ, buried in shallow graves in Daybell’s backyard. Tylee appeared to have been burned, according to Rexburg Police Detective Ray Hermosillo. JJ was found bound by duct tape.
A descent into extreme beliefs
Central to the case is Vallow Daybell’s fringe religious teachings — which included a belief she had lived past lives, a rating system of light and dark used to determine whether someone’s body had been taken over by an evil spirit, and that she and Daybell would lead a group of 144,000 people who would see the second coming of Jesus Christ.
Chad Daybell told Lori Vallow Daybell when they first met that they had been married many times in previous lives.
Her and Daybell’s beliefs evolved to include “zombies,” a label the couple used to refer to people who are possessed, to the point of no return. They described specific ways to deal with zombies, as detailed by a journal entry from Pastenes that was submitted as evidence.
For zombies, death was freedom, and the body had to be destroyed to avoid another dark spirit from taking it over. That meant “putting water and fire and destroying the body ... so there would be no way for another demon to come in.”
Both Gibb and Pastenes described a similar theme — people who questioned, challenged, or were an inconvenience to Vallow Daybell, were labeled “dark” spirits. That included Charles Vallow, Tammy Daybell and JJ and Tylee, all of whom were killed.
Alex Cox’s role in the case
Alex Cox, who died of blood clots the day after news broke that Tammy Daybell’s body would be exhumed, was described in court testimony as the group’s “warrior.”
Cox shot and killed Charles Vallow in what was originally deemed a self-defense shooting. His cell phone was also in the vicinity of Tammy Daybell the day a masked man reportedly shot at her in her driveway, and in the Daybells’ backyard around the last time Tylee was seen, near the spot where her body was later discovered.
And Vallow Daybell’s defense attorneys have filed an alibi that claims she was in her own Rexburg apartment with her friends when the children were killed in an apartment belonging to Cox.
Prosecutors said that a witness reported seeing Cox carrying JJ in his arms. “It was peaceful,” Lindsey A. Blake said, but JJ was never seen again.
Prosecutors also played a recording of Daybell reciting what he said was a blessing for Cox, given shortly before Cox’s death. “You have already assisted us in ways that can never be repaid,” Daybell tells him, as he, Cox, and Vallow Daybell all weep, “and you will continue to do so as you move forward in this life.”
“I think I’m being their fall guy,” Cox said on the night before his death, according to Pastenes. “I said, ‘Fall guy for what? What is it that you have done? What have you done that you would be the fall guy for?’”
Pastenes testified Cox never gave her a straight answer.
Vallow Daybell’s defense
“Being a defense lawyer is not always a popular job,” R. James Archibald told jurors during his opening statement last Monday. Archibald, along with John Thomas, have been assigned to defend Vallow Daybell.
Archibald reminded the jury that they are to only consider the allegations against Vallow Daybell — “your focus will be on the actions of Lori. Not on Chad, not on Alex,” he said, while emphasizing that the publicity about the case that has “tainted” so many people is not evidence.
Vallow Daybell’s alibi, Archibald said, is that she was in a different apartment when JJ and Tylee were killed, and in Hawaii when Tammy Daybell was killed.
“You’re here to determine if there even was a conspiracy,” he told the jury.
Greg Skordas, an attorney of more than 38 years who is serving as a KSL legal analyst, said that alibi could help the defense with the murder charges, but not conspiracy.
“They’re saying she wasn’t even around — she wasn’t even in the same state when all of this happened. That kind of plays into the homicide itself, but maybe not the conspiracy because you can still aid and abet when you’re in a different state,” he said.
Skordas noted that Vallow Daybell could still face a life sentence, even if she is only found guilty of conspiracy. “Even if they get her on two or three, the judge can still put her away for a very long time,” he said.
In his cross examination this week, Thomas focused on what seemed like small details and discrepancies in timelines presented by the witnesses. When he questioned Gibb and Pastenes, he zeroed in on their involvement in the group, and whether they too believed in concepts like zombies, vibrations and past lives.
It’s still not clear whether Vallow Daybell will take the stand in the trial, which is expected to last nearly eight weeks.