After a grueling month-long trial and seven hours of jury deliberations at a Boise courthouse, Lori Vallow has been found guilty of a conspiracy to murder her children, Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow, with husband Chad Daybell. She was also found guilty of a conspiracy to murder Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell. Vallow, who showed no emotion as the verdict was read, faces up to life in prison when sentenced, which Judge Steven Boyce said could be in about three months.
“Everything aligned in the universe, and this is what you call poetic justice,” Kay Woodcock, J.J.’s grandmother, told reporters outside the courthouse. J.J.’s grandfather, Larry Woodcock, declared, “Love always wins,” but said the process wasn’t over, alluding to Vallow’s sentencing hearing, which he vowed to attend: “And I will say, ‘Why, Lori? Why? Power, sex and greed — for what? For what?’” The couple had prompted an initial investigation into the missing children in 2019 by requesting a welfare check on J.J. after not hearing from their grandson for several months.
National attention surrounding Vallow’s case was due in part to the grisly details of the crimes. Seven-year-old J.J. died of asphyxiation from a plastic bag over his head and duct tape over his mouth, a forensic pathologist told the jury, while the body of 16-year-old Tylee, whose exact cause of death remains unclear, was partly burned. Their remains were found buried together on the Rexburg, Idaho property of Chad Daybell in 2020, months after the kids had been reported missing. (Daybell is awaiting his own, separate murder trial. He has pleaded not guilty.)
But just as shocking as the brutal slayings were the fanatical beliefs that prosecutors said Vallow and Daybell used to justify a deadly conspiracy. The pair, then both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, met at a religious conference in 2018, and, although both married to other people, had an instant, “flirty” connection, according to a former friend’s testimony. Vallow was already a fan of Daybell’s writings, which included a book explaining his ability to communicate with a spirit world beyond the “veil” of mortal life — a talent he attributed to near-death experiences. Daybell, an avid prepper, also published fiction about Mormons struggling to survive an apocalyptic future with the United States in collapse, and the jury for Vallow’s trial heard excerpts from an erotic “romance novel” based on their affair that he texted to her in fragments.
Vallow and Daybell quickly came to share a cultish reinterpretation of LDS doctrine, the prosecution argued, telling people they had been married in a past life and had prophetic doomsday visions. They also claimed to have special powers, from teleportation to the potential for magically calling up natural disasters or causing harm to others. They categorized people as good or evil — or “light” and “dark” — and regarded “dark” individuals as “zombies” whose possessed bodies would have to die so the person’s spirit could be freed.
Among those Vallow and Daybell described as zombies were not only J.J. and Tylee, but their own spouses. Charles Vallow, Lori’s fourth husband, was shot to death in Arizona in 2019 by her brother, Alex Cox, who claimed self-defense (and died the next year of natural causes). Vallow has been separately indicted on murder conspiracy charges there. Tammy Daybell, Chad’s previous wife, died under mysterious circumstances a few months later, but a medical examiner told the jury in Vallow’s trial that her death was a homicide by asphyxia. Daybell has been charged with her murder and fraud pertaining to her life insurance policy. He and Vallow were married just two weeks after her death, to the bewilderment of friends and family.
Although Idaho state prosecutors brought 60 witnesses to the stand in presenting their case against Vallow — including her surviving adult son, Colby Ryan — the defense did not call a single witness during the evidence phase of the trial. “After consulting with my client, we don’t believe the state has proven its case, so the defense rests,” Jim Archibald, Vallow’s attorney, told the court on Tuesday, shortly after the prosecution rested. Just before this, reported Nate Eaton of East Idaho News, Vallow had “a big smile on her face.” At the beginning of the trial, Archibald had said he was not sure if Vallow would testify herself.
In closing arguments, Madison County prosecutor Rob Wood laid out the state’s case that Vallow helped orchestrate a plot with Daybell and Cox to kill her children and Daybell’s wife, hoping to remove any obstacle to a life with Daybell. Wood said that “money, sex, and power” factored into Vallow’s motivations and repeatedly emphasized that she had never reported her children missing as she continued to collect their Social Security benefits. Defense attorney Jim Archibald, meanwhile, argued that Vallow was completely under the sway of Chad Daybell’s fanatic religious teachings, did not help plan the killings, and had only lied to authorities to protect him, as they were supposedly “eternal companions.” Archibald pinned the murders solely on Daybell and Cox, saying the state had failed to prove Vallow’s participation in the conspiracy.
While the Vallow-Daybell saga has been a lurid subject of interest for true crime devotees since J.J. Vallow and Tylee Ryan went missing in 2019, it has meanwhile rocked the close-knit Mormon community in and around Rexburg, where their bodies were found. After Utah, Idaho has the second-highest concentration of LDS members by state, while Rexburg skews especially Mormon, as it’s home to the LDS Church’s Brigham Young University–Idaho campus. Daybell was excommunicated from the Church for apostasy and “promulgating teachings and doctrines contrary to those of the Church” following his arrest in 2020.
No doubt Daybell’s defense team will study what happened in Vallow’s trial as they develop a legal strategy for their client — John Prior, Daybell’s attorney, was occasionally seen in attendance at the courthouse during these proceedings. Daybell’s trial has no confirmed start date as yet but could be as far away as June 2024.