After nearly four years and a winding investigation involving doomsday prepping extremism and several suspicious deaths, Idaho mother Lori Vallow stood trial on Monday for the murders of two of her children and plotting to slay her husband’s ex-wife.
Prosecutors wasted no time arguing to a jury that the 49-year-old was driven to murder because of “money, power, and sex.”
“That’s what this case is about,” Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake said in her opening statements on Monday, arguing that Vallow used those three tools and “the promise of those things to get what she wanted.”
In a packed Ada County Courthouse, Blake argued that Vallow and her husband, Chad Daybell—who were fueled by their doomsday-focused religious beliefs—are responsible for the September 2019 disappearance and death of her two children, Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow. Months later, prosecutors allege, the couple conspired to kill Daybell’s first wife, Tammy, for insurance and social security funds.
“Lori wanted [Daybell] all to herself,” Blake said.
Vallow has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including murder and conspiracy, in connection with the deaths of her children and the conspiracy to kill Daybell’s first wife in October 2020. If convicted, Vallow faces a maximum sentence of life in prison after Judge Steven Boyce ruled against the death penalty last month. Daybell, whose trial will be scheduled after Vallow’s is completed, may face the death penalty.
Seated next to one of her lawyers at the defense table and wearing a black blazer and her signature dark lipstick, Vallow did not show any noticeable emotion as prosecutors walked jurors through their case. Behind her in the gallery sat several family members, including JJ’s grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock.
Defense lawyers insisted on Monday there is no evidence to support the prosecution’s case, painting Vallow as a “good mother” and loving wife who got sucked into religious extremism after meeting Daybell.
“She believes in life after death and that she will see her deceased family again,” Vallow’s lawyer Jim Archibald said during opening statements on Monday.
Prosecutors beg to differ, walking jurors through the years-long saga and offering new details on the murders that spurred nationwide attention and a Netflix documentary.
“This case actually starts in October of 2018, when Lori Vallow met Chad Daybell for the first time,” Blake said, adding that the pair were both at a religious conference. Daybell, a former gravedigger, was the author of apocalyptic novels aimed at Mormons—and Vallow had been a long devoted fan of his work.
Blake said that during this meeting, Daybell and Vallow realized that not only did they share the same religious beliefs—but that they had been married in a past life and were meant to be together. The pair then designated themselves as the biblical figures “James and Elena,” and Vallow then allegedly moved “any obstacle in her way to get what she want[ed] and she wanted Chad Daybell.”
Kay Woodcock, the first to testify for the prosecution, told jurors on Monday that Vallow started behaving more erratically after meeting Daybell—prompting her husband to think about divorce. Brandon Boudreaux, who was formerly married to Vallow’s niece, also testified on Monday about the mom’s extreme religious views.
Police first declared JJ and Tylee missing in December 2019, after several family members reported they had not seen the children in months.
Court documents state that Tylee was last seen on a Sept. 8 trip to Yellowstone National Park with Vallow and her brother, Alex Cox. Around that time, prosecutors say, Vallow had told her friends and family that Tylee had become “dark”—and that if a person had turned “dark” they would become a “zombie.”’
“You will hear about a rating system of light and dark,” Blake told the jury, adding that Vallow “told others that with the help of Chad, she could rate people as light and dark. Pretty soon this system evolved.”
Blake says that Tylee’s younger half-brother, JJ, was seen days later when Vallow’s friends visited their Idaho home.
Prosecutors allege that the kids were killed around Sept. 22, 2019, and buried at Daybell’s Idaho farm. JJ, who was found buried in a pet cemetery, was wrapped in a garbage bag, with duct tape around his head and farms. His older sister was dismembered and buried in a fire pit nearby, Blake said. Prosecutors allege that Cox also helped in the disposal of the bodies.
“You will hear it described as a mass of bone and tissue. That’s what was left of this beautiful young woman,” Blake said about Tylee. “The defendant’s daughter. Her DNA was found on a pick ax and a shovel later located on a shed on Chad's property.”
The trial will also focus on the death of Daybell’s first wife, Tammy, who perished in her Idaho home on Oct. 19, 2019. Prosecutors allege that before her death, which was originally ruled as being the result of natural causes, Daybell increased her insurance policy.
Investigators eventually exhumed Tammy’s body in 2021 after learning that Daybell and Vallow had married days after her death—when the children were already missing. Blake on Monday revealed that Tammy died “at the hands of another and died of asphyxiation.”
“They were dancing and celebrating their wedding in Hawaii while JJ and Tylee were cold on the ground and Tammy had just barely died,” Blake said.
Prosecutors note that Vallow initially claimed that the children were living with relatives in Arizona. The pair then refused to leave Hawaii, cooperate with authorities, and explain the whereabouts of the missing children.
“The missing children, the sudden death of Tammy, the quick marriage of Chad and the defendant left so many questions for those still grieving the loss of Tammy and those still wondering 24/7 about the whereabouts of the children,” Blake said.
After months of investigation, Vallow was finally arrested in Hawaii in February 2020.
Vallow is also separately facing conspiracy to commit murder charges in Arizona in connection with the July 2019 death of her previous husband, Charles. Authorities say that Charles Vallow was fatally shot by Cox, who later claimed self-defense. Cox died of a blood clot on December 12, 2019.
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