Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the disturbing murder trial of Lori Vallow Daybell, the Idaho woman accused of killing her two youngest children and her husband’s ex-wife nearly three years ago.
Vallow Daybell and her husband, Chad Daybell, have pleaded not guilty to a slew of charges including murder, conspiracy and grand theft in the deaths of Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16.
The couple is also accused of killing Chad Daybell’s former wife, Tammy, who unexpectedly died in October 2019, about two weeks before Chad Daybell married Vallow. This surreal saga has drawn widespread speculation and been the subject of a Netflix docuseries.
Likely at the center of the trial will be Vallow Daybell’s mental state at the time of the killings, experts say. There’s even the possibility that she may take the stand to defend herself.
“We’re going to see a very complicated and bizarre trial,” said Carole Lieberman, a forensic psychiatrist who has been following the case. “There are all kinds of possibilities that could happen.”
Vallow Daybell trial was delayed multiple times
The highly-anticipated trial has been postponed twice for various reasons, including for testing of Vallow Daybell’s competency. Prosecutors allege that she and her husband practiced apocalyptic and doomsday-driven religious beliefs as part of a plan to kill the kids and Tammy Daybell.
Prosecutors will be on the hook to prove what allegedly drove Vallow Daybell to go to such drastic lengths to kill people. Prosecutors say the couple’s bizarre strategy was part of a plot to steal social security funds and insurance money.
The Daybells could face life in prison or, in the case of Chad Daybell, the death penalty, if convicted.
The couple are bring tried separately after a judge took the death penalty off the table for Lori Daybell last month.
If prosecutors could strike a deal with Chad Daybell, it’s possible he could testify against his wife, said John Delatorre, a forensic and disaster psychologist in Arizona and Texas.
“I would not be surprised if he takes the stand. I don’t think Chad is as devout of a believer as Lori is,” Delatorre said. “If he decides to be a witness for the prosecution, it may be from the perspective of ‘How can I make this all better for me?'”
Lieberman added that there could be a dynamic of ‘he said, she said’ in play.
“Chad could throw her under the bus and say Lori did it,” Lieberman said. “And her defense attorneys could say Chad did it. There are a lot of complexities in this one case where you have to draw out a map of the different people involved and their relationships to one another.”
Delatorre said the defense could try to argue there may not be any direct evidence to tie Vallow Daybell to the crimes.
“So as long as there’s no direct evidence, I think the defense needs to sit there and be quiet,” Delatorre said. “If there is direct evidence, then the defense has a problem.”
Delatorre added that the defense could also try to convince the jury that she was exploited.
“It’s not going to look good in the court of public opinion, but the defense only needs one juror to convince that Lori has this delusional thinking,” Delatorre said.
Idaho mom incompetent to stand trial:Lori Vallow Daybell, charged with killing her children, postponed to assess competency
Idaho mom mentally fit to stand trial:Idaho mom accused of killing children, believing in ‘zombies’ ruled mentally competent for trial
Vallow Daybell’s kids JJ and Tylee mysteriously went missing
Authorities in Idaho started investigating Vallow Daybell and her husband after other family members said they hadn’t heard from the couple’s kids in months and reported them missing in November 2019.
Police said the kids were last seen in Rexburg, Idaho, on Sept. 23, 2019. Compounding matters, the couple wasn’t cooperating with the investigation. The pair soon left Idaho and fled to Hawaii in December 2019, authorities said.
Vallow Daybell knew where her children were, according to the police. Authorities would begin a search for the couple and ordered them to turn over the children.
They found the couple in Kaua’i, Hawaii, in January 2020, without the kids. The couple was eventually extradited to Idaho.
Vallow Daybell’s belief in ‘Zombies’
What could become contentious at trial is Vallow Daybell’s apparent belief in zombies. Friends of the Daybells told investigators that the couple believed people could become “zombies” if they were possessed by evil spirits, a state in which their soul was trapped in limbo, according to police reports.
The couple reportedly believed that the only way to rid a person of a zombie was for their body to die, police reports said.
A friend, Melanie Gibb, told investigators that allow Daybell referred to her youngest children as “zombies.” Police in Arizona said the couple exchanged text messages saying that Tammy Daybell had been possessed by a dark spirit.
Lieberman believes the jury will be mentally exhausted by the time they reach a verdict.
“I’m more sure of the fact that I think there are going to be some stops and restarts to (the) trial because I think she will be going to go into bouts of psychosis,” Lieberman said.
Last-minute changes to Vallow Daybell’s trial testimony
Vallow Daybell was in court on Wednesday for a last-minute hearing about witness testimony.
The hearing was to determine potential witnesses who could be in the courtroom during the trial and which witnesses may need to be excluded to ensure they don’t change their testimony due to what other witnesses may say.
Vallow Daybell’s defense attorney asked District Judge Steven W. Boyce that JJ Vallow’s grandmother, who is expected to be at the trial and testify, be excluded from certain parts of the testimony.
“(Grandma) is a name she gave herself,” defense attorney Jim Archibald told the judge, adding that Kay Woodcock doesn’t meet the definition of being an immediate family member who is a victim.
“Her son terminated parental rights, she’s not a grandma,” Archibald said.
Prosecutors countered that Woodcock and her husband definitely “meet the definition of what a victim is,” and should be allowed to sit in the entire trial.
The judge is expected to make a ruling soon.
Vallow Daybell also faces conspiracy to commit murder charges in Arizona in connection with the death of her previous husband Charles Vallow.
Charles Vallow was fatally shot in 2019 by her brother Alex Cox. Both Vallow Daybell and Cox claim the shooting was in self-defense. Cox later died of what police say were natural causes.
That case is on hold while her fate is determined in Idaho.