Lori Vallow’s lawyer did the only thing he could during closing arguments on Thursday: He tried to convince jurors that the doomsday-obsessed mom didn’t have it in her to commit three murders but maybe, just maybe, her husband Chad Daybell could have.
“She worked hard as a single mother,” defense attorney Jim Archibald said during his closing arguments in Ada County Court, according to East Idaho News. “One year after meeting Chad… people are dead.”
Archibald never called any witnesses to the stand to counter the prosecution’s claim that Vallow was part of the religiously fueled scheme to kill two of her children and Daybell’s first wife before they fled to Hawaii and got married.
In his closing, he portrayed Daybell—a former gravedigger and the author of apocalyptic novels—as a villain who transformed his client from an “all-American” mom into a spellbound fanatic who believed in zombies and thought she was a “sexual goddess.”
“Why can’t people escape religious leaders? Why can’t Lori escape and get back to her good mom life? Lori is not a leader in Chad’s new church,” Archibald said, referring to the Mormon sect Daybell led.
“She’s following Chad. She thinks Chad is following Jesus but he’s not.”
Yes, under Daybell’s sway, Vallow began to speak in “weird religious babble that really does not make sense”—but that does not mean she wanted her kids dead, Archibald said. But, he reminded jurors, thinking that his client is innocent doesn’t mean that her husband or her late brother, Alex Cox, could not have played a role in the slayings.
During his closing arguments, however, Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood made clear Vallow’s bizarre ideology was not on trial.
“To be clear, nobody here has been charged for their religious beliefs. They have been charged for using those religious beliefs to justify murder.” He later added, “It doesn’t matter what they believe. It matters what they did.”
Wood said that Vallow is the “one common thread” in the three murders and claimed she was driven by “money, power, and sex.” Vallow and Daybell met at a Utah conference in 2018 and immediately began a love affair despite being married to other people. At the time, Daybell had written several novels and Vallow was a devotee of his work.
Archibald did not dispute that is how the relationship began.
“She’s reading his books during a hard time in her life and this guy is telling her she’s a goddess…and by the way, we’ve already been married in a previous life so it’s not really cheating,” the defense lawyer told jurors.
“That’s quite the pickup line by Chad to Lori, and it worked. Pretty scary that the pickup line from Chad to Lori worked.”
What’s truly scary, prosecutors say, is what Vallow and Daybell conspired to do so they could start a new life together without their spouses they believed were “dark” and possessed, according to text messages they sent each other.
Two months after Vallow’s brother killed her husband Charles—allegedly at her behest, according to charges in a different case—her son, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, and 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan, were also dead.
Law enforcement witnesses say that JJ was smothered with a white plastic bag duct-taped over his head. He was still in his red pajamas when authorities found his body months later in a pet cemetery in Daybell’s backyard.
“They did this to a boy with special needs,” Wood told the jury while displaying a graphic photo. Vallow’s hair was found on the duct tape, but her lawyer told the jury that was not evidence she was part of the murder.
“All of you who are mothers, I would hope your hairs on your kids’ blankets, your kids’ socks,” Archibald said. “Is that a smoking gun? No, it’s not.”
Tylee’s dismembered body was found by a fire pit on the property near her brother; the coroner said the remains were too destroyed to pinpoint a cause of death.
“She was burned and buried in Chad Daybell’s backyard,” Wood said.” What was left of her body they dumped in a green bucket and buried in a pet cemetery on top of a piece of her skull.”
Chad’s wife, Tammy Daybell, mother of five, died on Oct. 19, 2019—a death initially put down as natural causes. Archibald noted to jurors how a “smooth” Daybell talked authorities out of performing an autopsy. Months later, after authorities exhumed her body, investigators determined that she was asphyxiated.
“A loving mother of five and school librarian was murdered in her own home,” Wood said. “There was nothing in her body that would have killed her. She had bruises on her arms that the ME stated were consistent with restraint. JJ had bruises on his arms too.”
Vallow, who has pleaded not guilty and was initially deemed incompetent to stand trial, faces life in prison if convicted. Daybell, who will stand trial separately, could get the death penalty if found guilty.
Archibald noted that the prosecution has not argued that Vallow herself murdered her children and Daybell’s ex.
“No one here thinks Lori actually killed anyone. That’s why she’s being charged with conspiracy,” he said. “So they want you to be convinced that she’s part of this plan—that there’s a specific plan to kill. If you find her guilty, will that bring the kids back? Nope. If you find her not guilty, will that bring the kids back? Nope. You can’t be concerned about that. You need to be concerned with following the law and the lack of evidence.”