BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho mother Lori Vallow Daybell has been sentenced to life in prison without parole Monday in the murders of her two youngest children and a romantic rival in a case that included bizarre claims that her son and daughter were zombies and that she was a goddess sent to usher in the Biblical apocalypse.
Vallow Daybell 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.
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.”
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.”
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 the unusual religious 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. The family has also been hounded by media and others drawn by “all of the salacious scandal you stirred up,” Gwilliam told Vallow Daybell, who looked down as she sat between her defense attorneys.
“I miss my sister every day. I will grieve her, and the loss of my mother, every single day of my life,” Gwilliam said. “As for you, I choose to forget you and as I leave the courtroom here today, I choose to never think of you again.”
Boyce also heard from Vallow Daybell before handing down the sentence. She quoted Bible verses about how people should not judge each other. She said she too mourned the deaths of her children and Tammy Daybell but knew they would be together in the afterlife.
She claimed she is regularly visited by the spirits of her dead children, as well as the spirit of her “eternal friend,” Tammy Daybell, and suggested that the three weren’t murdered at all.
“Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case,” she said. “Accidental deaths happen. Suicides happen. Fatal side effects from medication happen.”
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 delusional disorder with grandiose features, according to reports referenced in 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 what authorities determined were 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. Police discovered they were missing a month later after an extended family member became worried. Their bodies were found buried in Chad Daybell’s yard the following summer.
During the trial, experts said Tylee appeared to have been stabbed and her body burned before it was buried in a pet cemetery, Wood said.
JJ’s head was wrapped in tape and plastic, asphyxiating him, Wood said, speculating that his last thoughts must have “been filled with fear and betrayal.”
Tammy Daybell’s body was bruised, suggesting she fought back as she was asphyxiated in her bed, Wood said.
Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow married in November 2019, about two weeks after Daybell’s previous wife, Tammy, was killed. Tammy Daybell initially was described as having died of natural causes, but an autopsy later showed she had been asphyxiated, authorities said.
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.