Idaho mother Lori Vallow Daybell was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole Monday after being convicted of the gruesome killings of her two youngest children and her husband’s former wife.
Vallow Daybell was handed the maximum sentence possible more than three years after the bodies of her son, Joshua (JJ) Vallow, 7, and daughter Tylee Ryan, 16, were discovered by authorities in Vallow Daybell’s husband’s backyard in rural eastern Idaho.
Judge Steven Boyce told the court that Vallow Daybell will serve three consecutive sentences because she “needs to be held accountable separately for each of the three murders.”
In addition to the three murder charges, Vallow Daybell was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for two separate charges of conspiracy to commit murder of her two children. She was also sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison for a grand theft charge. These counts will run concurrent to the three consecutive murder charges.
Boyce said during the sentencing he doesn’t think Vallow Daybell “has any remorse for the effort and heartache you caused.”
“It’s unbelievable that are your age, you have no prior criminal history and now, you sit here convicted of the most serious charges,” Boyce said. “The most unimaginable type of murder is to have a mother murdering her own children and that’s exactly what you did. Despite the jury convicting you with overwhelming evidence, you still sit here before the court today and said you didn’t do it.”
Vallow Daybell, 50, was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy charges in May, when a jury sided with prosecutors who painted her as a callous murderer who wanted to kill off her youngest children as part of a plan to start her new life with Chad Daybell.
“You chose the most evil and destructive path possible” despite having less harmful options, Boyce told Vallow Daybell on Monday. He reminded her of the enjoyment she took during a honeymoon in Hawaii, while her children lay in shallow graves in Idaho.
The children had been “burned, mutilated and dismembered, and buried like animals,” Boyce said.
Prior to sentencing, Vallow Daybell spoke for the first time about her actions, insisting she is not guilty of murder and saying that she’s been visited by her victims from the afterlife.
“Jesus knows me, and Jesus understands me,” she said, adding that she mourns those who died. But, she added, “Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case.”
Vallow Daybell justified the murders by “going down a bizarre religious rabbit hole, and clearly you are still down there,” the judge said.
“I don’t think to this day you have any remorse for the effort and heartache you caused,” he said.
Boyce heard testimony from several representatives of the victims, including Vallow Daybell’s only surviving son, Colby Ryan.
“Tylee will never have the opportunity to become a mother, wife or have the career she was destined to have. JJ will never be able to grow and spread his light with the world the way he did,” Ryan wrote in a statement read by prosecuting attorney Rob Wood. “My siblings and father deserve so much more than this. I want them to be remembered for who they were, not just a spectacle.”
Ryan also wrote about his own grief.
“I’ve lost the opportunity to share life with the people I love the most. I have lost my sister, father, brother and my mother,” he wrote. “I pray for healing for everyone involved, including those who took the lives of everyone we loved.”
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It’s been three years since police uncovered the bodies of JJ and Tylee. The grisly investigation that followed revealed allegations of doomsday plots and fringe religious beliefs.
The story begins even before Vallow Daybell’s children were reported missing.
In early 2019, Vallow Daybell was still married to JJ’s father, Charles Vallow, but the two were estranged and he had filed for divorce.
In the divorce documents, Charles claimed his wife believed she was a god-like figure, sent to usher in the apocalypse and carry out the work of 144,000 believers, a reference to the New Testament’s Book of Revelation.
Their marriage ended suddenly that July when Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed Charles outside the family’s suburban Phoenix home. Police initially determined the shooting was in self-defence and Cox was never charged. Cox died five months later of a blood clot.
Charles was Vallow Daybell’s fourth husband. Her third husband Joseph Ryan, who was the father of Tylee, died in 2018 of a heart attack.
After JJ’s father was killed, Vallow Daybell and the kids moved to eastern Idaho, where JJ’s grandparents said they struggled to reach him by phone. JJ’s grandparents said they last spoke to their grandson on August 2019 during a FaceTime call that lasted less than a minute, NBC reported. They eventually grew suspicious and called police.
In November 2019, Idaho police formally began to search for JJ and Tylee after several family members reported they hadn’t seen or spoken to the children since September.
At this point, Vallow Daybell had already begun a relationship with Daybell, an Idaho man who ran a small publishing company where he released a number of fiction books about apocalyptic scenarios loosely based on the theology of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Police in Rexburg, Idaho, tried to conduct a welfare check on Vallow Daybell’s children on Nov. 26, 2019, but they were nowhere to be found. The couple lied to police and said JJ was in Arizona with a family friend.
When police returned the next day, the couple had left town.
A months-long search for the missing children followed, spanning several states. Police determined Tylee was last seen in September headed into Yellowstone National Park with her mom and other family members for a day trip. JJ was last seen by school officials several days later.
Authorities tracked down Vallow Daybell and Daybell and found them together in Hawaii in January 2020. But again, JJ and Tylee were not with them.
Vallow Daybell was ordered to physically produce the children to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare by the end of the month, but when she failed to do so, Vallow Daybell was arrested for child desertion.
At this time, rumours began to swirl about Vallow Daybell and her new husband, as the case of their missing children gained national attention. In a February 2020 interview with local KSL, Tylee’s aunt said Vallow Daybell was disturbed and “unhinged.”
Months later, in June 2020, police finally located the bodies of the children buried in the yard of Daybell’s eastern Idaho home.
Daybell was promptly arrested for charges of destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, as well as desertion. Vallow Daybell and Daybell weren’t charged with murder until May 2021.
Court documents later revealed that JJ’s remains were found buried in a pet cemetery on Daybell’s property and that Tylee had been dismembered and burned in a fire pit.
‘Zombies’ and doomsday plots
When the bodies were found, Vallow Daybell’s longtime best friend Melanie Gibb had already been co-operating with authorities for months, according to Rexburg police documents written by Lt. Ron Ball.
“Gibb reports that when she arrived in Rexburg, Lori Vallow informed her that JJ Vallow had become a ‘zombie,’” Ball wrote. “Gibb further reports that the term ‘zombie’ refers to an individual whose mortal spirit has left their body and that their body is now the host of another spirit. The new spirit in a ‘zombie’ is always considered a ‘dark spirit.'”
It wasn’t the first time Gibb said she heard her friend talk about zombies, according to the statement. Gibb said Vallow Daybell had called Tylee a zombie in the spring of 2019 when the teen didn’t want to babysit her little brother and that Vallow Daybell had first learned the concept from Daybell at the start of that year.
Gibb said the couple believed that when a zombie takes over a person’s body, “the person’s true spirit goes into ‘limbo’ and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed,” the court document said. “As such, death of the physical body is seen as the mechanism by which the body’s original spirit can be released from limbo.”
In the course of the investigation into JJ and Tylee’s deaths, detectives learned that Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell, had unexpectedly died in October 2019 of what was initially reported as “natural causes.”
Daybell and Vallow Daybell married just two weeks after Tammy’s death. Authorities exhumed Tammy’s body and prosecutors believe Daybell and Vallow Daybell collaborated to kill her.
When the couple were eventually charged in their murders, the indictment said the couple “did endorse and espouse religious beliefs for the purpose of encouraging and/or justifying the homicides” of Tammy, Tylee and JJ.
Prosecutors believe the couple collected Tammy’s life insurance policy and the kids’ social security and survivor benefits.
A month later, Vallow Daybell was additionally charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder for the death of her previous husband.
Several family members and friends described to detectives a group led by the couple that met to pray, believing that they could drive out evil spirits and seek revelations from “beyond the spiritual veil.”
In police reports, one friend said Vallow Daybell told her she could “teleport” between Arizona and Hawaii, and that Daybell said he had a “portal” in his home where he could receive revelations and travel to other realms.
More trials to come
Daybell is currently awaiting trial on the same murder charges. Vallow Daybell also faces two other cases in Arizona — one on a charge of conspiring with her brother to kill Vallow, and one of conspiring to kill her niece’s ex-husband. Vallow was shot and killed in 2019, but her niece’s ex survived an attempt later that year.
— with files from Global News’ Kathryn Mannie and The Associated Press