By: Andrea Cipriano, MAFP
People across the country have been closely following the Doomsday Cult Murders trial, feeling the emotional intensity as the deaths of two children and a mother are debated.
Lori Vallow Daybell’s 5-week double murder trial was hallmarked by tears, bombshell testimony, phone calls you have to hear to believe, and viral moments. If you weren’t able to catch every minute of the court proceedings, don’t sweat — here are the top 10 moments from the Doomsday Cult Murders trial.
But first, some quick background…
On May 12, 2023, a jury found Lori Vallow Daybell guilty on all counts of killing her two children and conspiring in the murder of her husband’s ex-wife. On July 31, 2023, Lori was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In a dramatic reading before her sentencing, Lori read bible verses, shared stories of her near-death experience, and said she communicates with her spirit children.
“Jesus knows me, and Jesus understands me… Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case,” Lori said.
Investigators discovered in September of 2019 that both Lori Vallow’s children, JJ Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16, were missing and not in school, or with family friends like Lori said they would be. While the children couldn’t be found, Lori ran off to Hawaii with Chad Daybell, a newly widowed husband. The two got married two weeks after his previous wife, Tammy Daybell’s death.
In February 2020, Lori was arrested in Kauai, Hawaii, and charged with desertion and nonsupport of her dependent children. She was extradited to Idaho. On June 9, 2020, police executed a search warrant for Chad Daybell’s backyard, and discovered JJ and Tylee’s remains. On May 25, 2021, Lori and Chad were charged with the first-degree murders of Tylee, JJ, and Tammy.
Lori Vallow is charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in connection to the deaths of two of her children, JJ and Tylee, as well as the death of her current husband’s late wife, Tammy. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She no longer faces the death penalty, however, Lori could be sentenced to up to life in prison if she’s found guilty.
While there are no cameras allowed in the courtroom, court reporters have been relentlessly tweeting and filming newscasts outside the Idaho courthouse. Even before the trial started, countless documentaries have been released by massive streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon.
Now, let’s examine the 10 shocking and jaw-dropping moments from this trial. We’ve saved the most O-M-G moment for last.
An Idaho prosecutor says Lori tapped into powerful motives to get what she wanted.
“Money, power and sex… that is what this case is about,” Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake said during opening statements. “Lori used money, power and sex or the promise of those things to get what she wanted. Remember, the defendant will remove any obstacle in her way to get what she wants, and she wanted Chad Daybell.”
Lary Woodcock, the grandfather of JJ Vallow, spoke outside Ada County Court in Boise Idaho during the first week of Lori’s murder trial. Earlier in the day, the prosecution showed gruesome pictures of JJ’s remains.
A courtroom sketch artist captured the moment Lary lowered his head as if to steady himself after seeing the horrific pictures. He shared with reporters that he was happy his wife wasn’t present to see the images.
Prosecutors revealed the long-awaited results of an autopsy performed on Tammy Daybell. Her cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation and not a heart attack, as previously believed. Utah Medical Examiner Dr. Erik Christensen testified that he found bruises on her arms and chest consistent with someone being restrained, and consistent with asphyxia as the cause of death.
Detective Vince Kaaiakamanu told the jury early in the trial that in the days leading up to Tammy Daybell’s death, Alex Cox, Lori’s brother, searched for bullet drop data, using an AR-15 in cold weather and shooting a victim inside a vehicle.
Kaaiakamanu said he believed Cox was trying to gauge where to stand in order to shoot Tammy. The mother-of-five died as a result of asphyxiation on October 19, 2019 — ten days after an unknown intruder pointed a gun at her.
Could this have been Alex?
Disturbing text messages between Chad and Lori were revealed by the prosecution.
Doug Hart, a now-retired FBI agent, shared there were three separate conversations regarding “death percentages” for the three individuals.
On July 18, 2019, Chad texted Lori saying “She [Tylee] is at a 0.13. I turned up the pain to 10 and placed a spiritual virus in her. He [JJ] is at 99.99. Raphael visited him and told him to follow Amy into the light.”
Chad’s percentage scale determined that the closer the number was to 0 or 100, the closer the person was to death, according to Hart.
The two additional conversations about death percentages took place on July 30 and August 10.
On April 11, Detective Ray Hermosillo provided the most emotional and graphic testimony of the trial when he described finding the remains of JJ and Tylee on Chad Daybell’s Idaho property on June 9, 2020.
He detailed how after they removed topsoil near the backyard pond, there was a “strong odor that, through my training, I knew was a decomposing body.” He found JJ’s body wrapped in black plastic, and he could see the crown of JJ’s head.
Det. Hermosillo also described finding charred clumps of human remains and bone fragments that ended up being Tylee. He said the scene was so horrific, investigators had to take turns working the excavation.
Lori’s sister, Summer Shiflet, testified during the third week of the trial. Throughout her emotional testimony, she was seen crying while a heartbreaking phone call recorder while Lori was in jail was played for the first time.
The jail call audio was released for the public to hear.
During the conversation, Summer slams Lori, after the children’s bodies were found, saying: “I don’t know how they can be thrown away like garbage. You were in Hawaii, dancing on the beach while your kids are in the ground?”
Lori’s only surviving child, Colby Ryan, took the stand against his mother. After he finished his testimony, the prosecutors played the audio of a jail call where Colby confronts his mother after JJ and Tylee’s bodies were found.
“To know that they’re gone, and you knew! And my phone is being texted by my little sister, who’s not even alive!” Ryan can be heard saying in the audio, his voice rising with anger. “My poor brother, who is the sweetest little kid ever — for what purpose? You tell me this is God’s will: For my whole family, including my stepfather, to be dead.”
A forensics expert testified towards the end of the prosecution’s argument that hair attached to the duct tape found wrapped around JJ’s body was connected by DNA to Lori Vallow.
“The probability of randomly selecting a random individual in relation to that profile 1 is 71 billion,” said Keeley Coleman, a DNA analyst for Bode Technology.
In a shocking turn of events, the legal team for Lori decided to rest their case on Tuesday, May 9, without mounting a defense of their client, whom they say is innocent.
In other words, they didn’t even try to refute anything that the prosecution argued. No witnesses were called, and no evidence was displayed. The defense team claimed that they “don’t believe the state has proven its case,” so they think the jury had all they need to come back with a not guilty verdict.