An Idaho mother who is accused of killing her two children and conspiring to kill her husband’s first wife was motivated by “money, power and sex,” prosecutors said as opening statements in her trial began Monday, according to CNN affiliate East Idaho News.
Lori Vallow Daybell is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of conspiracy in the deaths as well as grand theft for collecting government benefits on behalf of her children after they were killed, the indictment states.
She has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Jury selection took place last week.
Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake told the jury on Monday that Vallow Daybell “used money, power, and sex to get what she wanted. It didn’t matter what it was,” East Idaho News reported.
The sensational case, featured in a Netflix true-crime documentary last year, involves the deaths of a number of family members and claims Vallow Daybell and her husband had apocalyptic religious beliefs.
Two of Vallow Daybell’s children from previous marriages, Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, were last seen on different days in September 2019. Shortly after that, she married Chad Daybell, whose first wife Tammy Daybell had died several weeks prior.
“The defendant will remove any obstacle in her way to get what she wants – and she wanted Chad Daybell,” Blake said, according to East Idaho News.
Daybell and Vallow Daybell called themselves “James and Elaina” and believed they were religious figures and had a system of rating people as “light” or “dark,” the prosecutor told jurors.
Jim Archibald, an attorney for Vallow Daybell, painted a different picture Monday, saying in court: “The evidence will show Lori was a kind and loving mother. The evidence will show Lori had an interest in religion – especially the end of times.”
“Some people could care less about biblical prophecies, some people care a lot about it. Thankfully in this country we get the freedom to choose,” said Archibald, according to the East Idaho News report.
Archibald told the jury that prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to prove Vallow Daybell’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
“Did she kill or did she assist or did she encourage or did she command? They (prosecutors) aren’t sure what happened – but they want you to be sure,” Archibald told the jury, according to East Idaho News.
In late November 2019, relatives asked police in Rexburg to do a welfare check on JJ because they hadn’t talked to him recently. Police didn’t find him at the family’s house but did see Vallow Daybell and Daybell, who said JJ was staying with a family friend in Arizona, according to authorities.
When police returned the next day to serve a search warrant, the couple was gone. They were ultimately found in Hawaii in January 2020.
In June 2020, law enforcement officials found the remains of Tylee and JJ on Daybell’s property in Fremont County, Idaho, and Vallow Daybell and Daybell were indicted on murder charges in May 2021.
“You will hear it described as a mass of bone and tissue,” Blake said during opening statements Monday, describing how Tylee’s remains were found. “That’s what was left of this beautiful young woman. The defendant’s daughter,” Blake said, according to East Idaho News.
JJ’s body was wrapped in a plastic bag, according to Blake.
Daybell, Vallow Daybell and her brother Alex Cox conspired to kill the children and Daybell’s first wife, the indictment states.
Vallow Daybell and Daybell “did endorse and teach religious beliefs for the purpose of justifying” the killings of JJ, Tylee, and Tammy Daybell, the indictment notes. In particular, Daybell and Vallow Daybell exchanged texts about Tammy Daybell “being in Limbo” and “being possessed by a spirit named Viola,” according to the indictment.
Those close to the couple said they had been involved in strong religious ideologies.
JJ Vallow’s grandmother, Kay Woodcock, was the first witness to take the stand Monday, testifying that her regular phone calls with her grandson dropped off after the death of Vallow Daybell’s ex-husband, Charles Vallow, East Idaho News reported.
The grandmother said the last conversation she had with JJ Vallow was on August 10, 2019, when she spoke to him during a short call that lasted less than a minute. She said she attempted over the next few months to contact her grandson, but never got any response from Vallow Daybell.
Arizona police released body camera footage from January 2019 of Vallow Daybell’s ex-husband saying he could not get in touch with the children. He said their marriage had rapidly deteriorated and “she thinks she’s a resurrected being and a god.”
In addition, Daybell was connected to a religious doomsday prepper website which describes itself as a “series of lecture events focusing on self-reliance and personal preparation.” The publishers of the site said they decided to pull content featuring either Daybell or Vallow Daybell in light of the children’s disappearance.
Vallow Daybell was initially ruled not mentally fit to stand trial, but a judge reversed the determination last year.
Daybell’s trial will be held separately. Vallow Daybell won’t face the death penalty if convicted, a judge ruled last month. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Vallow Daybell has separately been charged in Arizona with conspiracy to commit murder in the July 2019 death of her estranged husband Charles Vallow. He was fatally shot by her brother Alex Cox, who later died in December 2019.
CNN has reached out to prosecutors regarding those charges.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Tammy Daybell’s marital status with Chad Daybell when she was murdered. They were still married. It also gave the wrong age for Tylee Ryan. She was 16 at the time of her death.
CNN’s Mitchell McCluskey contributed to this report.