Lori Vallow Daybell, a mother found guilty of murdering her children and conspiring to murder her husband’s wife, was given three consecutive life sentences Monday.
Before Judge Boyce handed down the life sentences, the court heard emotional statements from the victims’ family members, prosecutor Rob Wood, defense attorney John Thomas and Lori.
Lori’s sentencing is the culmination of a nearly four-year-long case. The case included a love affair, a cult-like religious group, zombies, two dead spouses, missing children and a trip to Hawaii — a typical Rexburg crime story.
In November 2019, Kay Woodcock had not heard from her seven-year-old grandson, Joshua Jaxon “JJ” Vallow, in several months. Without informing Woodcock, JJ’s adoptive mother, Lori, had moved JJ and his sixteen-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan, from Arizona to Rexburg in August 2019. There, Lori continued what had previously been a long-distance, year-long affair with Salem resident and author, Chad Daybell, who was married to Tammy Daybell.
Lori and Chad met in 2018 at a Preparing a People religious conference. Though they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the pair bonded over unorthodox beliefs that placed them at the head of the gathering of God’s elect, described as the 144,000 in the Bible.
During Lori’s trial, close associates and text messages revealed that Lori and Chad referred to several of their family members as zombies — persons whose bodies are possessed by demons. These family members included: JJ, Tylee, Tammy and Charles Vallow, Lori’s previous husband.
The June prior to Lori’s move to Rexburg, Charles was killed at his Arizona home by Lori’s brother Alex. Lori currently faces a conspiracy to commit murder charge for the incident.
JJ and Tylee received monthly social security payments due to the deaths of their respective fathers. Tammy and Charles had life insurance policies. Charles’ policy amounted to $1 million.
The events that followed between August 2019 and June 2020 led to Chad and Lori’s indictments.
— Lori switches social security payments for Tylee to her own personal account.
Sept. 8, 2019
— Tylee Ryan last seen alive at Yellowstone National Park.
Sept. 22, 2019
— JJ Vallow last seen alive by visitors at his home.
Oct. 19, 2019
— Tammy Daybell dies.
Oct. 21, 2019
— Chad goes to Sugar-Salem School District to claim Tammy Daybell’s life insurance.
Nov. 5, 2019
— Lori and Chad get married.
Nov. 26, 2019
— Rexburg police officers conduct a welfare check on JJ Vallow but do not find him.
Nov. 27, 2019
— Police find Lori’s apartment empty.
— Lori served with papers to produce her children to authorities.
Feb. 20, 2020
— Lori arrested for child desertion.
Jun. 9, 2020
— The bodies of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan are discovered buried in Chad’s backyard. His arrest immediately followed.
Summary of sentences
— Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder (Tylee Ryan) — life in prison.
— First-degree murder (Tylee Ryan) — life in prison.
— Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder (JJ Vallow) — life in prison.
— First-degree murder (JJ Vallow) — life in prison.
— Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder (Tammy Daybell) — life in prison.
— Grand theft — 10 years
Victim impact statements
Prior to Lori’s sentencing, the family members of the victims were allowed to provide statements.
Ronald Douglas, Tammy Daybell’s father
Douglas’ statement was read on his behalf by his daughter, Samantha Gwilliam. He lamented the broken relationship between his family and Tammy’s children, who publicly defended their father, Chad, when he was first arrested. He said the emotional stress imposed by all the events accelerated his wife’s decline in health – Phyllis Douglas passed away on June 8, 2023.
“The eternal ramifications of your actions are yet to be calculated,” Douglas said to Lori.
Samantha Gwilliam, Tammy Daybell’s sister
Gwilliam reiterated the strained relationship in the family and blasted Chad and Lori for their religious fanaticism.
“You are not exalted beings, and your behavior makes you ineligible to be one,” Gwilliam said.
She called her sister irreplaceable and told Lori, “No angels are coming to rescue you.”
Vicky Hogan, Tammy Daybell’s aunt
Hogan criticized Lori’s behavior during the trial referring to her occasional smiles and laughter with her attorneys. Like her relatives, she eulogized Tammy saying that she went above and beyond for the children she taught as a librarian at Central Elementary School.
Kay Woodcock, JJ’s grandmother
Woodcock recalled JJ’s premature birth, the difficulties of his early life and the “deep appreciation” Lori expressed in being able to adopt JJ.
She said she could not understand how that same person could later kill her own children.
Woodcock said that Lori “killed him slowly by taking away everything that mattered,” including his service dog and time with his grandparents.
Colby Ryan, Lori’s eldest son
A representative read Ryan’s statement since he was not in attendance. Ryan praised his deceased younger siblings as well as his father, Charles. He lamented that his daughters would never know them in this life.
“I pray for healing for everyone involved,” Ryan said.
“What is the value of a human life?”
The state, represented by Madison County prosecuting attorney Rob Wood, began and ended its recommendation with that question.
Wood argued that only a sentence of life in prison without parole would place enough value on the lives of JJ, Tylee and Tammy.
He said that Lori “violated her most sacred trust” as a mother and that her actions checked all the boxes for life imprisonment.
He said that her willingness to kill her own children makes her a danger to society and that the committal of such a crime cannot be rehabilitated.
Further on, he said that contrary to media portrayal, she was not a Rexburg mother and that her punishment should send a message that such actions will not be tolerated in the community.
Wood noted the graphic nature of the victims’ deaths. JJ Vallow was determined to have died from asphyxiation by a plastic bag. Tylee Ryan’s remains were found scattered in pieces with puncture wounds in her pelvis consistent with stabbing. Though Lori was out of state when Tammy died from asphyxiation, Wood reminded the court that Lori’s conspiring role in her murder warrants an equal punishment to first-degree murder under the law.
Attorney John Thomas invoked Christian messaging in his recommendation to the judge of a sentence of a 20-year fixed prison term with an indeterminate term of life.
“(Lori’s) motto is, ‘love is the key,'” Thomas said.
He called her “witty,” “insightful,” “smart” and “a great mother.” He also argued that her fellow inmates would become better people by interacting with her.
Lori’s unexpected statement was replete with emotion, denial of wrongdoing and assertions of divine communication.
“Jesus knows me and Jesus understands me,” Lori said.
She said that after nearly dying while giving birth to Tylee, she had regular communication with the “spirit world” and Jesus Christ. She claimed that Tylee visited her in spirit to command her to stop worrying. In a similar alleged visitation from JJ, he told her that she did nothing wrong.
She referred to the victims’ deaths as accidents and suicides and said that she has a great love for Tammy Daybell.
Boyce reprimanded Lori for choosing “the most evil and disruptive path possible” to get rid of her children.
“In Rexburg, you had a thousand random families to adopt children, but you killed them,” Boyce said.
He also highlighted her lack of accountability and remorse by referencing her purchase of wedding rings prior to Tammy’s death, her trip to Hawaii after her children were reported missing and her request at trial to be excused from viewing the photos of her children’s remains.
Boyce said that while he does not typically see the point in granting consecutive life sentences, he felt it was appropriate in this circumstance to provide justice for each victim.
A chapter closes
While Lori still faces charges in Maricopa County, Arizona for conspiracy to commit murder and her husband, Chad’s, April trial looms, the Rexburg community is approaching the end of one of its most notorious murder cases.
“It’s time to heal, it’s time to get past this,” said Larry Woodcock, JJ Vallow’s grandfather, at a press conference following the sentencing. “Please, let’s not allow this to happen again. Pray for the ones that need help, offer help to them and protect everybody.”