BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jurors in the triple murder trial of a woman accused in the deaths of her two children and a romantic rival were shown gruesome photographs of the slain children Tuesday afternoon, as the grandfather of one of the kids sobbed in the back of the courtroom.
Seven-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and his big sister Tylee Ryan were last seen in September of 2019, sparking a nationwide search. The search ended in tragedy the following year when their bodies were found buried in an eastern Idaho yard.
Lori Vallow Daybell and her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, are both charged with multiple counts of conspiracy, murder and grand theft in connection with the deaths of JJ and Tylee, the latter of whom was last seen shortly before her 17th birthday in 2019. The children were buried on Chad Daybell’s property. Prosecutors also charged the couple in connection with the October 2019 death of Chad Daybell’s late wife, Tammy Daybell.
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Both defendants have pleaded not guilty and are being tried separately. Vallow Daybell’s trial began this month, and Chad Daybell’s trial is still months away. Vallow Daybell faces up to life in prison if convicted.
A police detective from Rexburg, Idaho was the only witness to take the stand Tuesday. Detective Ray Hermosillo explained how the investigation started — with a call from an Arizona law enforcement agency seeking help to track down a vehicle that was suspected in an attempted shooting — as well the condition of the children’s bodies when they were unearthed eight months later.
At one point, Vallow Daybell’s defense attorneys asked the judge if she could be excused from the rest of the day’s testimony, saying the graphic evidence that was to be shown would be detrimental to her already fraught mental health.
Seventh District Judge Steven Boyce has twice ordered Vallow Daybell to undergo mental health treatment after finding her incompetent to assist in her own defense at various points since her arrest. Still, Boyce rejected the request, saying her presence in the courtroom was needed to ensure a fair trial for all involved.
The evidence that followed was exceedingly graphic and included a series of photographs showing the children’s remains as they were excavated from Daybell’s property and pictures taken during the subsequent autopsies.
In one, JJ was wearing red pajamas and socks, duct tape covering his mouth and binding his arms and legs together. His arms were visibly bruised, Hermosillo said, and his body had partially decomposed. Black plastic covered his remains, which were buried near a tree on Daybell’s property.
Tylee’s remains were destroyed and burned, packed into a melted green bucket and buried at a different location on the property, Hermosillo said. Prosecutors had him describe pieces of the remains as shown in a series of photos.
During the testimony, JJ’s grandfather Larry Woodcock sobbed from his seat in the courtroom gallery. Larry and Kay Woodcock were close to their grandson, and had grown worried in 2019 after the boy became increasingly difficult to reach by phone. Kay Woodcock asked police to perform a welfare check on JJ that November, and that’s when authorities discovered both children were missing.
Several other family members of the victims were also in Boise to attend the trial. Tylee’s aunt, Annie Cushing, was at the courthouse on Tuesday with her daughter, Tylee’s cousin. Charles Vallow’s adult sons also attended.
Earlier Tuesday, Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood questioned Hermosillo about the initial steps of the investigation.
The case was sparked by a Nov. 1, 2019 call from police in Gilbert, Arizona, Hermosillo said. The agency wanted help from Rexburg police to perform surveillance on the couple and seize a Jeep Wrangler suspected of being used in an attempted shooting. On Monday, jurors heard testimony from an Arizona man who had recently divorced Vallow Daybell’s niece. Brandon Boudreaux said someone driving a Jeep Wrangler shot at him outside his home, and the Jeep resembled one that belonged to Tylee.
Investigators surveilled Vallow Daybell’s apartment in Idaho and snapped photos of Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell entering and leaving, Hermosillo said, and spotted the Jeep on Nov. 4. But they never saw any kids at the home, and were surprised when the Arizona officers showed up two weeks later and told them about JJ and Tylee.
Kay Woodcock requested a welfare check on JJ on Nov. 25 of 2019, and Hermosillo said Chad Daybell and Vallow Daybell’s brother Alex Cox acted suspiciously when investigators asked them about the kids.
JJ and Tylee were added to a national registry of missing children in December of 2019. The last known proof-of-life came in snapshots, Hermosillo said — one taken of Tylee in the western part of Yellowstone National Park in early September and one taken of JJ sitting on a couch later that month.
Vallow Daybell never reported her two youngest children missing, Hermosillo told jurors, and defied a court order to show them to police.
On Monday, prosecutors attempted to paint Vallow Daybell as a woman who would do anything to remove obstacles — including her own kids — to her relationship with Chad Daybell. They said she conspired in the death of Chad’s previous wife Tammy Daybell, who died in October 2019. Tammy Daybell’s death was initially reported as being from natural causes, but authorities had her body exhumed and an autopsy determined she died of asphyxiation.
Defense attorneys suggested prosecutors didn’t know what had happened and pointed to language in the murder charges that accused Vallow Daybell of either directing, encouraging, ordering or participating in the deaths. A reasonable jury would have to find her not guilty, her attorney Archibald said.
Prosecutors also described extreme religious beliefs that they said Vallow Daybell and Daybell promoted. They said the pair claimed to be able to tell if people were possessed by dark spirits, that some possessions turned the inhabitant into a “zombie,” and that the only way to save a zombie’s soul was by killing the person’s body.
Friends of Vallow Daybell will testify that she said the children and Tammy Daybell were “dark” before their deaths, Prosecutor Lindsey Blake said. At least one friend told police that Vallow Daybell called both children “zombies” before they disappeared, according to police records.