NewsDaybell Trials


FBI Agent testifies to methodology and findings during excavation at the Daybell property

Lori's sister testifies
Posted at 5:10 PM, Apr 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-25 20:42:27-04

BOISE, Idaho — New family faces have been spotted at the Ada County courthouse, attending the trial of their relative Lori Vallow Daybell.

Lori is charged with the murders of her two young children, and conspiring to kill her husband's previous wife, Tammy Daybell.

On Tuesday, Lori's sister Summer Shiflet testified as a key witness for the prosecution. Lori's uncle Rex Conner was also present.

"We made eye contact a couple times, but I don't know the same person that's in there," Conner said of his niece.

On Monday, prosecutors focused on the digital footprint of Lori and Chad Daybell, reflecting on how quickly their relationship developed before either of their spouses died.


Courtroom sketch: FBI Special Agent Nick Ballance on the witness stand

Court resumed Tuesday with continued testimony from FBI Special Agent Nick Ballance, reiterating the amount of phone calls happening between devices owned by Chad Daybell and Alex Cox in the area of the Daybell property, though acknowledging that they cannot be pinpointed, specifically, to the backyard area.

Ballance also analyzed and testified about contact and movements of devices believed to be owned by Cox, Chad and Lori on October 9, 2019, the day Tammy Daybell reported being shot at by a masked man in her driveway. He then moved on to October 18 of that year, the day before Tammy died, and showed contact between Lori, Chad and Cox throughout the day, and the tracking of Cox in the area close to midnight.

Ballance was not able to see the content of text messages sent during this time.

A few other points of contact during Tammy's funeral, as well as calls made to Tylee's phone in December, were discussed before the state finished their questioning of Special Agent Ballance.

Upon cross-examination, the defense argued cell towers are not accurate. Ballance discussed Google GPS, but they were only able to track Cox. He also testified that providers did not keep records of messages at that time, with the exception of Verizon. The defense completed their cross.

The state, in re-direct, asked if a person is able to dismantle the GPS tracking on a device. Ballance confirmed that a user is able to opt-out of this function.

No further questions; FBI agent Ballance was dismissed.


Courtroom sketch: Summer Shiflet on the witness stand

The state called Lori's younger sister, Summer Shiflet, to the stand. Shiflet testified she played an active role in the lives of the children, and that she and Lori were close. However, she did not know they were missing until December 2019.

Shiflet said she asked Lori about them in February 2020, and Lori told her that she knew where they were and they were okay. At that time, she had no reason not to believe her sister.

The state then shifted questioning to the time just after the discovery of the children's remains. Shiflet said she felt lied to and her trust in her sister was damaged.

The prosecution played a call recorded between Lori and Shiflet in June 2020, after the remains of the children were found. On the call, Shiflet is crying, while Lori says she is unable to tell her about it. Shiflet can be heard as very emotional on the call, accusing Lori of lying. Shiflet says that no scripture says it is Godly to hurt a child.

As her voice was raised, Shiflet questions Lori's resolve to not say anything nor care. Lori maintains that no one knows how she feels or what she has been through. Shiflet, audibly screaming, tells Lori there is nothing okay about killing children and begs her sister to consider she has been deceived by Chad. Shiflet, while sobbing, also laments that her sister had thrown her children away like garbage (due to the way the remains were found).

At the end of the playing of the call, the prosecution had no more questions.

The defense began cross-examination by apologizing to Shiflet for having to relive that conversation. They questioned the relationship between the sisters, and the love that Lori had for her children.

The defense also inquired about the religious beliefs that Lori had expressed to her sister, regarding past lives and the Light and Dark scale. Shiflet said she didn't agree this was core to their religion and didn't know what to think about the beliefs Lori was talking about.

Shiflet also testified that brother, Alex Cox, had been in a car accident when he was 16 that seemed to have permanently impacted his decision-making, as if he stayed a teenager.

Finally, Shiflet confirmed that she believed her sister was different after meeting Chad.

The prosecution asked for re-direct, and had Shiflet confirm that Lori had lied to her about the kids being safe.

Shiflet was then excused.


Courtroom sketch: Retired Rexburg Police Detective Rick Schmitt on the witness stand

The state then called retired Rexburg police detective Rick Schmitt. Schmitt had still been in the department when they began investigating the missing children in November 2019. He had also been assigned to go to Utah to interview family members of Chad and Tammy Daybell in December 2019.

Schmitt testified that he was able to obtain footage of Lori, Alex Cox, JJ and Tylee at Yellowstone, dated September 8, 2019.

He also testified that he had obtained video of the surveillance at the storage facility, noting Lori, Chad and Cox visited it often. Specifically, the detective recalls a video from Oct. 2, 2019, observing Lori and Chad putting what looked like a spare tire and car seat in the unit, stating that it looked like a rear seat from a Jeep Wrangler.

He also observed Lori and Cox at the storage unit the following day, retrieving the tire and seat.

Schmitt also testified to seeing Cox dropping off and retrieving gun cases from the storage unit. The detective called local shooting ranges and found that Cox had visited them, allegedly using false names.

Schmitt also testifies that he was present during a search of the Daybell property, and followed Chad as he fled the property.

Schmitt transported Chad to jail, then returned and joined the search of the fire pit area on the Daybell property where, after concrete was removed, police located human remains.

During cross-examination, defense asks questions regarding the surveillance videos at the storage unit, then continued with questions regarding the shooting ranges. Schmitt confirms he made an assumption that Cox was there signed in using an alias, though he did not follow up to get visual confirmation that it was actually Cox.

The defense goes on to clarify Schmitt's testimony of the remains found near the firepit.

Detective Schmitt is excused from the stand without further questions or re-direct.


Courtroom sketch: FBI Special Agent ERT Steve Daniels on the witness stand

The State calls FBI Special Agent Steve Daniels, member of the FBI Evidence Response Team, to the stand, and has special training in recovering human remains. Daniels was involved in developing the strategy to search the Daybell property on June 9, 2020 for human remains and other evidence.

Daniels testifies that they used an eight-member team, took over 500 photographs, and concentrated on areas near the firepit, the 'pet cemetery', and the pond, clarifying that everything needed to be searched.

Daniels testified that they used laser scanners and a drone before they began digging in the property. A compilation of the photos and evidence is admitted as an exhibit to the court. In addition to different angles, maps and views, Daniels points to impressions and changes of the ground in the pet cemetery leading to the area being investigated.

Daniels continues to testify describing the firepit and how the area was excavated. The group discovered bone fragments, organic material, and pieces of cloth from the firepit. Due to an overpowering smell of accelerant, soil samples were collected for further testing in a lab.

Investigators also found a jewelry chain and charm in the firepit.

When investigators were digging in the pet cemetery, they first found many animal remains. A photograph admitted into evidence was that of a larger bone, later determined to belong to Tylee. As digging with hand tools continued, investigators were overwhelmed by the distinctive smell of a decomposing body.

Special Agent Daniels testified that more bones were found and an anthropologist was brought in to assist in the excavation. Evidence photos in the courtroom show the bones as they were found and then placed on a tarp. Photographs also showed what were later confirmed as burnt remains, but had melted together.

A secondary burial site uncovered what investigators recognized as human parts, dismembered and melted together in a bucket, along with a human skull.

Investigators worked with the anthropologist to determine what they had, if it belonged to one or more bodies, and what additional excavation efforts were required.

Photographs of different areas of the property were then reviewed, of the garage, the shed, and a barn on the property, which were of interest to investigators as they were looking for tools that may have been used in the burials. Many photographs show the tools that were seized by authorities to be processed.

Daniels then identified photos taken of the area near the pond where JJ's remains were found. Again, photos indicated a change in ground cover, leading investigators to focus on specific areas for excavation. After some soil was removed, investigators found three large rocks.

After a brief sidebar, Judge Boyce calls adjournment for the day. Court will resume with more testimony from Special Agent Daniels Wednesday morning.