Lori Vallow Daybell, the Idaho mother accused of killing two of her children while she was a member of a doomsday cult, is going on trial after months of delays due to questions about her competency.
Jury selection began on Monday in the murder trial, which is just one of the criminal cases involving Vallow Daybell or members of her family. According to court documents, she and her husband, Chad Daybell, were charged in 2021 with the murder of Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, as part of the couple’s doomsday-driven religious beliefs. Prosecutors say the two also planned to steal Social Security and insurance money following the children’s deaths, and they were also charged with conspiracy to murder in connection with the death of Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, in October 2019. Daybell is expected to go on trial at a later date.
The couple married on Nov. 5, 2019, not long after the suspicious deaths of both their previous spouses, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Documents obtained by local news outlet KTVB show Vallow Daybell had become “obsessive” about near-death experiences and spiritual visions, her former husband Charles Vallow said as he sought a divorce that was never finalized. She told Vallow that she had lived many lives on several different planets before her current life, believed she was a god on a mission, and said if Vallow got in the way, she would kill him, the documents said.
According to the felony indictment of Vallow Daybell and Daybell, the couple began discussing their religious justification for killing Tammy in 2018.
A month before her death, Chad increased Tammy’s life insurance to the maximum amount allowed. Prosecutors said that Alex Cox, Vallow Daybell’s brother, then attempted to shoot Tammy on Oct. 9, 2019. She died later that month, and Vallow Daybell and Daybell married two weeks later.
Vallow Daybell’s children were reported missing to police in November 2019 by their grandmother, who said she had not heard from them in months, according to a probable cause statement. Police said the couple refused to work with the investigation, and they ordered Vallow Daybell to present her children by Jan. 30, 2020. She failed to do so and instead fled to Hawaii in December 2019.
The couple’s strange spiritual beliefs as members of the Church of the Firstborn came under scrutiny as the police investigation continued.
Melanie Gibb, a friend of the couple’s, told police that they believed in the idea of “dark spirits” possessing a person’s body and referred to possessed people as “zombies,” according to an arrest affidavit. Gibb said that the couple believed it was their mission to “rid the world of zombies.”
“Gibb was informed by Vallow [Daybell] that when a person became a ‘zombie,’ their original spirit left their body and entered ‘limbo’ and is trapped and cannot progress to ‘paradise.’” the affidavit reads. “Vallow then informed Gibb that for the person’s original spirit to be freed from limbo the person’s physical body had to die.”
Gibb informed investigators that Vallow Daybell had referred to her daughter Tylee as a “zombie,” saying she was possessed at the age of 12 or 13, the affidavit says.
Vallow Daybell was arrested on suspicion of murder in February 2020, but she was declared incompetent to stand trial. She was committed to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare for treatment.
She was ruled to be competent and fit to stand trial 10 months later.
Tylee’s and JJ’s bodies were later found buried on Daybell’s property on June 9, 2020, according to a statement by the Rexburg Police Department. Both are believed to have been killed in September 2019.
The tangled true crime story made national headlines and drew more of a following after the premiere of the Netflix docuseries Sins of Our Mother, which features interviews with Vallow Daybell’s friends and family, including her adult son, Colby Ryan.
Vallow Daybell and Daybell have pleaded not guilty to charges including murder, conspiracy, and grand theft. Her trial could last as long as 10 weeks, according to the East Idaho News. Cameras are not permitted in the courtroom, but reporters in Idaho are live-tweeting the proceedings, and the East Idaho News has said it will post court audio recordings on its website.
A judge ruled that Daybell Vallow will not face the death penalty if found guilty, stating that there has not been enough time for her defense team to review new evidence.
Daybell still faces the death penalty.
Vallow Daybell had also referred to her former husband Vallow as being possessed by a spirit and said that she would kill him, according to the divorce complaint obtained by KTVB. This had prompted him to file a protective order against her before the divorce.
Vallow was killed in July 2019 after Cox shot him twice in the chest. Cox claimed he had shot him in self-defense after Vallow attacked him; Cox died of natural causes before the investigation into Vallow’s death was completed. Vallow Daybell was indicted in June 2021 on a charge of conspiracy to commit murder in connection to her former husband’s death. The Arizona case remains pending.