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Lori Vallow Daybell sentenced to life in prison without parole for murder of children

The woman charged in the case of a so-called doomsday cult and murder could spend life in prison.
Posted at 4:29 PM, Jul 28, 2023

BOISE, Idaho — Lori Vallow Daybell has been sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday in the murders of her two youngest children and a woman she saw as a romantic rival in a case that included bizarre claims that her son and daughter were zombies and that she was a goddess tasked with ushering in an apocalypse.

VIDEO: Watch, read Lori Vallow Daybell's full statement at her sentencing hearing

Vallow Daybell, 50, was found guilty in May of killing her two youngest children, 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, as well as conspiring to kill Tammy Daybell, her fifth husband’s previous wife. Vallow Daybell will serve three life sentences one after the other, the judge said.

The husband, Chad Daybell, is 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 her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, and one of conspiring to kill her niece's ex-husband. Charles Vallow was shot and killed in 2019, but her niece's ex survived an attempt later that year. Vallow Daybell has not yet entered a plea on the Arizona charges.

At the Fremont County Courthouse in St. Anthony, Idaho, Judge Steven W. Boyce said the search for the missing children, the discovery of their bodies and the evidence photos shown in court left law enforcement and jurors traumatized, and he would never be able to get images of the slain children out of his head.

A parent killing their own children “is the most shocking thing really that I can imagine,” Boyce said.

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.”

JJ’s grandmother Kay Woodcock, who first raised the alarm about the missing children in 2019, told the judge that it has been 1,536 days since she was last able to hug and kiss her grandson.

JJ was a preemie and had autism, and his biological parents weren't able to care for him so he was adopted by Woodcock's brother Charles and Lori Vallow.

Vallow Daybell appeared stoic through most of the testimony, but wiped her eyes when Woodcock talked about how confident she had been that Vallow Daybell would be a good mom.

“I knew she would be 1,000% involved in his care,” Woodcock said.

The Woodcocks frequently visited JJ, cooking and playing together and patting his back as he fell asleep at night. Now they have only memories and “immeasurable grief,” Woodcock said.

“Lori is a monster that has not taken any responsibility or shown an ounce of remorse for her vile actions,” she said.

The murder scheme and Tammy Daybell’s death left a deep rift in her family, Tammy’s sister Samantha Gwilliam told the court.

“Why? Why plan something so heinous? You are not exalted beings, and your behavior makes you ineligible to be one,” Gwilliam said, referring to a religious belief that Vallow Daybell purportedly incorporated into her claims. “Because of the choices you made, my family lost a beloved mother, sister and daughter.”

Tammy Daybell’s mother was fighting cancer, and spent the last months of her life watching the murder trial, Gwilliam said. “I miss my sister every day. I will grieve her, and the loss of my mother, every single day of my life,” Gwilliam said.

Boyce also heard from Vallow Daybell before handing down the sentence. She quoted Bible verses about how people should not judge each other.

“I mourn with all of you who mourn my children and Tammy,” Vallow Daybell said, crying and calling Tammy Daybell her “eternal friend.”

“Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case,” she said. “Accidental deaths happen. Suicides happen. Fatal side effects from medication happen.”

She also claimed that she regularly is visited by the spirits of the three victims, and that the children's spirits had told her to “stop worrying” and that she “didn't do anything wrong.”

“Because of these communications, I know for a fact that my children are happy and busy in the spirit world,” Vallow Daybell said. “Because of my communications with my friend Tammy Daybell I know that she is also very happy and extremely busy.”

Wood pointed to the two Arizona cases as well as the three murders in six weeks in Idaho.

“A defendant who is willing to murder her own children is willing to murder anyone," Wood said. "Society can only be protected from this defendant by a sentence of life in prison without parole.”

Vallow Daybell was committed multiple times for treatment to make her mentally competent for the court proceedings. But Wood said there is no evidence that her crimes were impacted by her “alleged mental illness,” which includes a diagnosis of a delusional disorder featuring bizarre content and hyper-religiosity, as well as a personality disorder with narcissistic features, according to a doctor's report provided to the court.

“The evidence is overwhelming that she did know right from wrong,” Wood said, noting testimony from several people who said she lied to them about the deaths.

In July 2019, Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed her estranged husband, Charles Vallow, in a suburban Phoenix home. Cox told police he acted in self-defense. He was never charged and later died of natural causes.

Vallow Daybell was already in a relationship with Chad Daybell, a self-published writer of doomsday-focused fiction loosely based on Mormon teachings. She moved to Idaho with her kids and brother to be closer to him.

The children were last seen alive in September 2019. A few weeks later Tammy Daybell was killed. Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow married just two weeks after Tammy's death in November 2019.

The childrens' bodies were found buried in Chad Daybell's yard the following summer.

Defense attorney Jim Archibald argued during the trial that there was no evidence tying Vallow Daybell to the killings, but plenty showing she was a loving, protective mother whose life took a sharp turn when she met Chad Daybell and fell for his “weird” apocalyptic religious claims. He suggested that Daybell and Vallow Daybell’s brother, Alex Cox, were responsible for the deaths.

Daybell told her they had been married in several previous lives and she was a “sexual goddess” who was supposed to help him save the world by gathering 144,000 followers so Jesus could return, Archibald said.

Vallow Daybell’s former friend Melanie Gibb testified during the trial that Vallow Daybell believed people in her life had been taken over by evil spirits and turned into “zombies,” including JJ and Tylee.