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Lori Vallow Daybell's 'zombie' murder trial has brought a string of notable moments

A sketch depicts Madison County prosecutor Rob Wood (from left), Lori Vallow Daybell and defense attorney Jim Archibald during opening statements of Vallow Daybell's murder trial in Boise, Idaho, on Monday.
Lisa C. Cheney
A sketch depicts Madison County prosecutor Rob Wood (from left), Lori Vallow Daybell and defense attorney Jim Archibald during opening statements of Vallow Daybell's murder trial in Boise, Idaho, on Monday.

Revelations from friends and investigators. Phone recordings and text messages. Heart-wrenching photos.

In the first week of testimony in Lori Vallow Daybell's murder trial in Boise, Idaho, prosecutors have unveiled evidence they believe will lead jurors to find Vallow Daybell guilty of murdering two of her children and her husband's previous wife.

Vallow Daybell's religious beliefs about zombies and the end of the world have been mentioned several times, including her purported ability to perceive people as being "dark" — under the influence of evil.

If convicted, Vallow Daybell, 49, could face life in prison. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Here's a recap of some of the biggest moments in the trial so far:

People were seen as "obstacles," the state says

Prosecutors said on Monday that several people Vallow Daybell designated as "dark" or even as zombies died soon afterward, including her children Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua Jaxon "JJ" Vallow, 7.

The common thread, prosecutors allege, is that the deaths removed obstacles to the future life Vallow Daybell wanted with her fifth husband, Chad Daybell. Vallow Daybell is accused of conspiring to murder Tammy Daybell, Chad's then-wife who was found dead in her home in October 2019.

"The defendant ... used money, power and sex, or the promise of those things, to get what she wanted," Fremont County Prosecutor Lindsey Blake told jurors in her opening statement. She added, "It didn't matter what obstacle she had to remove to get what she wanted."

Blake said the couple held a jubilant wedding in Hawaii in November 2019 — 17 days after Tammy died, weeks after JJ and Tylee died, and months after Vallow Daybell's brother, Alex Cox, shot and killed her estranged husband, Charles, in July.

On Friday, Detective Nathan Duncan of the Chandler, Arizona, Police Department read aloud a text message Vallow Daybell sent to Daybell from July 18, 2019 — one week after Cox killed Vallow in Arizona, after an apparent argument.

"I just got a letter from the insurance company that I am not the beneficiary. It's a spear thru my heart," Duncan said as he read the message from Vallow Daybell, according to East Idaho News.

Melanie Gibb, a friend to Vallow Daybell, testifies

Melanie Gibb, a confidante of Vallow Daybell's, told the court that she watched her friend become increasingly involved with Chad Daybell, from their first meeting in October 2018 — a time when both of their spouses were still alive — to their shared beliefs in people being overtaken by dark, evil energy.

Taking the witness stand on Thursday, Gibb testified about the couple saying that in a previous life they had been married and "sealed" together — joined for eternity. Together, they told Gibb, whey would lead 144,000 people in the end times, as described in the Book of Revelation.

Gibb eventually became a source of information for police investigating the unexplained disappearances of Tylee and JJ in late 2019. In court, she testified that Vallow Daybell's relationship with Tylee was a tense one. She also said that as police investigated the children's disappearance, Vallow Daybell asked her for help and told authorities that JJ was with Gibb in Arizona — but, Gibb said, she later told police that wasn't true.

The jury also heard a lengthy phone conversation Gibb recorded with the couple in late 2019, in which she pressed them to say where the children were.

"I know exactly where JJ is. He is safe and fine," Vallow Daybell said in the recording, as local TV station KPVI reports. After Gibb pushed for more details, Vallow Daybell told her that she suspected Gibb was falling prey to "dark things."

Jurors saw heart-wrenching photos

The prosecution has repeatedly emphasized the young lives that were cut short. And in the trial's first days, prosecutors showed jurors graphic photographs to illustrate that, and the way in which the bodies were disposed. The court was shown the "charred remains" of Tylee, along with photos of JJ's body, showing him wearing red pajamas and socks, partially bound by duct tape.

Police discovered the bodies in June 2020, buried on property in Rexburg, Idaho, owned by Chad Daybell. Some of the pictures were taken at that time — months after JJ and Tylee were last seen alive, in September 2019. Others were autopsy photos, as the Associated Press reports.

When their bodies were located, Vallow Daybell had already been charged with felony desertion of a child, as well as obstruction.

Photos of Tammy Daybell's body were also displayed in court. And on Monday the prosecution revealed for the first time that while Tammy's death was initially attributed to natural causes, it has since been ruled an asphyxiation, after her body was exhumed.

The Daybells' children have previously said the authorities believed their mother was asphyxiated, but this is the first official confirmation of that finding.

Jurors also heard an audio recording found on Vallow Daybell's iCloud account, of Daybell conferring a "patriarchal blessing" upon Alex Cox, although Daybell did not have the appropriate status in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the recording, Daybell said he had the authority to do so under the "Church of the Firstborn."

The recording was dated November 2019. Alex Cox died the next month; a medical examiner concluded that he died of natural causes. On Friday, Cox's wife testified that she asked him whether he had anything to do with Tammy's death, or if he knew where Lori and Chad were, as East Idaho News reports.

"I think I'm being their fall guy," Cox reportedly said, refusing to elaborate. He died the next day.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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