A look at who's who in the murder trial of slain kids' mom
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho jurors will soon begin deciding the guilt or innocence of a mother charged in a bizarre triple murder case. Prosecutors say Lori Vallow Daybell took part in a complex conspiracy that included doomsday-focused spiritual beliefs and efforts to kill those who stood in the way of her goals. Defense attorneys say there's no evidence directly tying her to the crimes, and that she's a good mom who fell for a man espousing cult-like teachings. Here, a look at the defendants and some of the witnesses in the trial of Lori Vallow Daybell:
Lori Vallow Daybell, 49, is a beautician by trade, a mother of three, and a wife — five times over. She’s pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges in the deaths of her two youngest kids and her new husband’s previous wife.
Vallow Daybell’s first marriage, to a high school sweetheart when she was just 19, ended quickly. She married again in her early 20s, and had a son named Colby before divorcing. In 2001, Vallow Daybell married again, this time to a man named Joseph Ryan. The couple had a baby girl named Tylee in 2002, but divorced just a few years later. Ryan later died in his home of a suspected heart attack.
Charles Vallow, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, entered the picture several months later. Vallow Daybell joined the LDS church and the pair married in 2006. They later adopted Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow.
But by 2019, that marriage had also soured. Charles Vallow filed for divorce, contending in court papers that Vallow Daybell also believed herself to be a deity tasked with helping to usher in the Biblical apocalypse.
The two were estranged but still married when Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Charles Vallow outside his Phoenix suburban home.
Cox told police the shooting was in self defense and was never charged in the case. Shortly after Charles’ death, Vallow Daybell moved to eastern Idaho with JJ, Tylee and her brother Cox.
Chad Daybell became her fifth husband on November 5, 2019 — roughly two weeks after his previous wife Tammy Daybell died under suspicious circumstances.
Meanwhile, JJ and Tylee were missing. They were last seen in September, and they were declared missing in November after extended family urged police to investigate. Their bodies were found the following year buried in Chad Daybell’s yard.
Daybell, 54, was also a member of the LDS church and a self-published author who wrote doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on church teachings. He married Tammy Daybell in 1990, and they had five kids.
Prosecutors say he met Vallow Daybell at a conference in Utah in 2018. The two purportedly felt an “instant connection” and claimed they had been married to each other in a past life, according to police records. Friends of the couple told investigators that the pair shared the same unusual beliefs, including that they could tell if someone had been taken over by an evil spirit.
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell led a group of friends in trying to cast out the supposed evil spirits by praying and doing “energy work,” prosecutors said. Friends told police that in some cases they determined a person had become a “zombie,” fully controlled by the evil spirit. Vallow Daybell claimed the only way to get rid of a “zombie” was to destroy the person’s body, prosecutors say, and one friend told police she heard Vallow Daybell call the children zombies before they disappeared.
Tammy Daybell was initially described as having died in her sleep of natural causes. But an autopsy showed she was asphyxiated to death, Prosecutor Lindsey Blake told jurors earlier this month.
Chad Daybell is also charged in the triple murder case. Like Vallow Daybell, he has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. He is expected to stand trial several months from now.
Ryan, 27, is Vallow Daybell’s only living child. Though he was born of Vallow Daybell’s second marriage, when his mother remarried, Colby took Joe Ryan’s last name.
Colby Ryan, who testified that he had a happy childhood, started crying on the stand when prosecutors showed him photos of Tylee and JJ, and he talked about how Tylee was receiving social security benefits because her biological father Joe Ryan died in 2018. Sometimes she would send money to Colby Ryan through a phone app, and sometimes his mom would put money into Tylee’s account to send to him, he said.
After Ryan moved out of the family home, he continued to exchange texts with Tylee. But shortly after what would have been Tylee’s 17th birthday in September of 2019, the tone and syntax of those texts changed. Tylee had last been seen alive a few weeks earlier, but at the time Ryan didn’t know she was missing.
The occasional money transfers continued, too, though through a different phone app under his mother’s name, he said.
After his siblings’ bodies were found, Ryan confronted his mother in an emotional recorded phone call that was played for jurors.
The call starts with Ryan asking Vallow Daybell if she thought she could keep hiding from him.
“I’m not hiding, why would you think I’m hiding?” she responds.
“Probably because you murdered my siblings! Maybe you should understand,” Ryan continued, before his mother interrupted:
“I didn’t. I’m sorry you feel that way,” she said.
Woodcock is JJ’s grandmother, and she convinced Idaho police to check up on JJ after her normally regular phone calls and visits with the boy dried up. That “welfare check” in November of 2019 revealed that both kids were missing.
JJ’s father, Charles Vallow, is actually Woodcock’s brother: He adopted JJ as a baby because JJ’s biological parents — including Woodcock’s son — were unable to care for the child.
Woodcock was the first witness in the trial. She told jurors that JJ was born with some disabilities and was diagnosed with autism. After Charles Vallow died, Woodcock feared Vallow Daybell no longer wanted the boy. She was also worried JJ may have witnessed his father’s death.
“We were so worried about JJ, and did he see what happened to his dad,” Woodcock told jurors.
Gwilliam is Tammy Daybell’s sister — the only two girls in a family of five kids. As adults, they talked nearly every day, Gwilliam told the jury, and Tammy Daybell seemed healthy and was training to run a race just two weeks before her death.
Tammy's funeral happened so quickly — just three days after her death — that some family members couldn't attend, Gwilliam said. She was devastated when she learned Chad Daybell remarried just a couple of weeks after Tammy died, she said, but he told her that he and his new wife connected because they were both grieving over deceased spouses.
Chad Daybell said his new wife's name was Lori Ryan and that her previous husband had died of a heart attack. He also said they were both “empty nesters,” with no young kids at home, Gwilliam told the jury.
Gwilliam later found out Lori was also associated with the last name “Vallow” and did an internet search. That's when she realized Charles Vallow had been shot to death. An online comment under Vallow's obituary also mentioned two kids — and that was the first time Gwilliam heard anything about Lori's son and daughter, she told the jury.
“Eventually the last conversation I had with Chad was in December” of 2019, Gwilliam told the jury. “It was just to ask him to stop lying about what was going on.”