After several years and a surreal investigation involving religious extremism, Idaho mother Lori Vallow has been convicted of murdering her two children and plotting to slay her husband’s former wife.
Vallow was found guilty on all charges against her—including first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and grand theft—in connection with the September 2019 disappearance and death of her two children, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow. After seven hours of deliberation, Ada County jurors also convicted Vallow of conspiring in the October 2019 murder of Chad Daybell’s first wife, Tammy.
As the verdict was being read in court, Vallow stared at the jury with her armed cross while pursing her lips. The 49-year-old mother now faces a life sentence in prison.
“This is what you call poetic justice,” Kay Woodcock, JJ’s grandmother, said in a press conference outside of the courthouse alongside her husband. Gerry Vallow, the child’s great uncle, also expressed his gratitude over the swift verdict, telling reporters: “They got the bitch.”
Brooke Unti, Tammy Daybell’s niece, told The Daily Beast that her family is “relieved and grateful that justice has been served.”
“While this cannot bring Tammy, JJ, and Tylee back, we are glad that the justice system has done its job in holding the responsible person accountable for her actions,” Unti added. “We hope this verdict brings some measure of closure for all of us. We love you, Tammy. You will never be forgotten.”
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Madison County Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood, and Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake expressed their joy over the verdict and stressed that they “remain committed to pursuing justice for Tylee Ryan, JJ Vallow, and Tammy Daybell.” The prosecutors, however, noted that cannot comment further because of the pending case against Chad Daybell.
“Today is a good day!” Annie Cushing, the sister of Vallow’s third husband, tweeted immediately after the verdict. “Justice won’t bring back my niece, Tylee Ryan, her little brother, JJ Vallow, or Chad Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, but it lightens the load a bit.”
The conviction comes after a six-week trial, where jurors were subjected to harrowing details about how prosecutors say Vallow and her husband were driven to murder by their beliefs in a renegade branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a need for money to start their new life in Hawaii.
“Money, power, and sex. Beginning in October 2018, Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell set in a motion of events,” Wood said during closing arguments on Thursday. “This plan was driven by Lori Vallow’s desire for and use of money, power, and sex.”
While the defense decided to rest their case this week without mounting a defense or putting any witnesses on the stand, attorney Jim Archibald insisted during his wrap-up that Vallow was innocent of the murder. He said that the prosecution did not meet the burden of proof in their case against Vallow—and implied to the jury that Daybell was the one responsible for the string of slayings.
“She worked hard as a single mother,” Archibald said, according to East Idaho News. “One year after meeting Chad [Daybell]… people are dead.”
Prosecutors, however, presented jurors with 60 witnesses and a slew of evidence to show how Vallow was the “one common thread” in the three murders and that she was driven by “money, power, and sex.”
In his closings, Wood noted that Vallow and Daybell first met in 2018 at a Utah religious conference and quickly fell in love. At the time Daybell was a popular Mormon author and Vallow was a devoted fan.
Melanie Gibb, one of Vallow’s former friends, testified about the initial meeting and revealed that the pair believed they had been married in a past life and were meant to be together. Both Vallow and Daybell, however, were still married to other people.
As her affair with Daybell continued, Gibb said, Vallow told her that she was among the 144,000 people who would be on Earth for the second coming of Jesus Christ. Vallow also began to preach about a light and dark scale, Gibb said.
Vallow explained that if a person had turned “dark,” Gibb said, they would become a “zombie.” She believed that her former husband, Charles Vallow, and her two children were “dark,” Vallow’s friend added.
In July 2019, Charles Vallow was fatally shot by his brother-in-law, Alex Cox. (Cox died of a blood clot months later and Vallow is facing a separate trial in connection with Charles’ murder.)
Prosecutors say JJ and Tylee were murdered around September 2019 before they were buried in Daybell’s backyard.
Dr. Garth Warren, who works for the Ada County Coroner’s Office, detailed how 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 in Daybell’s pet cemetery in June 2020.
In what could be the most damning piece of evidence against Vallow, a DNA expert testified that a piece of her hair was found stuck on the same duct tape that was used to wrap JJ’s buried body.
Warren also testified that he examined Tylee’s remains, which were found in a fire pit near her brother. The doctor said that while he determined that Tylee was murdered, he could not determine the cause of death because her remains were so badly burned and dismembered.
An FBI expert testified that he discovered sharp trauma wounds on Tylee’s bones, which led him to believe that she had been cut with a machete, cleaver, or hatchet.
Prosecutors say that Tammy Daybell died from asphyxiation in her Idaho home about a month after the children were murdered. Initially, authorities deemed that Tammy died of natural causes in her home on Oct. 19, 2019. Two law enforcement experts, however, did testify about Daybell’s bizarre behavior when they arrived at the crime scene the day Tammy died.
“I’m Chad the husband. She’s clearly dead,” Daybell said to a Fremont County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher after their son found Tammy “stiff,” according to EastIdahoNews. “She’s frozen.”
The officers told jurors that Daybell insisted that his family did not want an autopsy, even though there was foam coming out of Tammy’s mouth at the time of her death. Dr. Erik Christensen testified that when Tammy’s body was exhumed in December 2019, he concluded that she died of asphyxiation and that she had been restrained for hours before her death. Tammy also had bruises on her arms and chest, the doctor told jurors.
Two weeks after Tammy’s death, prosecutors said, Daybell flew to Hawaii to marry Vallow in November. About a month later, police began asking questions about the whereabouts of JJ and Tylee—which Vallow and Daybell evaded.
The pair initially claimed that the children were living with relatives in Arizona before they stopped all communication with authorities and refused to leave Hawaii to answer questions. After months of investigation, Vallow was finally arrested in Hawaii in February 2020—spurring a domino effect of investigations into her and her family.
“They were freed from the obstacles of their kids and wife,” Wood said about Vallow and Daybell once they moved to Hawaii. “They were dancing on the beach.”
Vallow’s conviction, however, does not mean the end of the road for this case. Idaho prosecutors have turned their sights on Daybell, whose trial was severed from his wife in March.
Daybell, who is also charged with similar crimes in connection with the three murders, is set to begin trial next June.
Unlike Vallow, however, Daybell is facing the death penalty.