Lori Vallow Daybell, whose children were murdered in 'evil' plot, sentenced to life

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An Idaho mother convicted of the gruesome killings of her two youngest children and her husband's former wife was sentenced Monday to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the maximum sentence possible.

Lori Vallow Daybell was sentenced more than three years after the bodies of her son, Joshua "JJ" Vallow, 7, and daughter Tylee Ryan, 16, were discovered by authorities in her husband's backyard in rural eastern Idaho.

She was sentenced to the maximum sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the two first-degree murder charges of JJ and Tylee and conspiracy to commit murder of her husband's former wife, Tammy Daybell. The three sentences are to be served consecutively because Vallow Daybell "needs to be held accountable separately for each of the three murders," Judge Steven Boyce said.

Vallow Daybell was also sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for two separate charges of conspiracy to commit murder of her two children. She was also sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison for a grand theft charge. The counts will run concurrent to the three consecutive murder charges.

Lori Vallow Daybell says 'Jesus understands me'

Vallow Daybell addressed the court Monday, saying: "Jesus knows me and Jesus understands me. I mourn with all of you who mourn my children and Tammy. Jesus Christ knows the truth of what happened here. Jesus Christ knows that no one was murdered in this case. Accidental deaths happen. Suicides happen. Fatal side effects from medications happen."

Boyce said during the sentencing he doesn't think Vallow Daybell "has any remorse for the effort and heartache you caused."

"It's unbelievable that are your age, you have no prior criminal history and now, you sit here convicted of the most serious charges," Boyce said. "The most unimaginable type of murder is to have a mother murdering her own children and that's exactly what you did. Despite the jury convicting you with overwhelming evidence, you still sit here before the court today and said you didn't do it."

Brother mourns Joshua "JJ" Vallow and Tylee Ryan

Colby Ryan, Vallow Daybell's estranged oldest son, said in a victim impact statement that "generations have been affected by these murders."

Jurors took only seven hours to reach a guilty verdict after a five-week trial this spring featuring graphic images and emotional testimony from Ryan, who once shouted during a jail call with his mother, "You murdered my siblings!"

"My children will never know their uncle, their aunt or grandfather. Tylee and JJ brought so much light into the world," Ryan said Monday. "Tylee will never have an opportunity to become a mother, wife, or have the career she was destined to have. JJ will never be able to grow and spread his light with this world the way he did."

Vallow Daybell's sentencing concludes a devastating case involving children found as "pieces of bone, charred flesh," one detective testified during the trial. The deaths led to worldwide attention, scrutiny, speculation and sensationalism as prosecutors argued the killings were "premeditated and planned."

"This defendant violated the most sacred trust that exists in society and she did it for gain. She did it for money. A defendant who is willing to murder her own children is willing to murder anyone," state prosecutor Rob Wood said Monday. "Society can only be protected from this defendant by a life sentence without the chance of parole."

'Money, power, sex' fueled murders, prosecution said

Prosecutors argued that Vallow Daybell, 50, manipulated her late brother, Alex Cox, who fatally shot her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, to help her lover-turned-fifth husband, Chad Daybell, into carrying out the crimes. The trial centered around the theme "money, power and sex,” Wood said, urging the jury to convict Vallow Daybell in the death of her kids and Tammy Daybell. Prosecutors argued the couple's bizarre scheme was a plot to steal Social Security and insurance money.

"Because of the choices you made, my family lost a beloved mother, sister, aunt and daughter. She is irreplaceable," said Samantha Gwilliam, Tammy Daybell's sister, in a victim impact statement Monday. "I miss my sister every day. I will grieve her and now the loss of my mother for the rest of my life. I choose to forget you and as I leave this courtroom today, I choose to never think of you again."

Vallow Daybell's attorney countered that she was a loving, protective mother whose life worsened when she fell for the charms of a would-be cult leader, Chad Daybell, and his apocalyptic religious beliefs. Chad Daybell, who will be tried separately, could face the death penalty if he's convicted for his accused role in the killings. It is not known when his case will begin.

"I have always mourned the loss of my loved ones and I have lost many in this mortal world," Vallow Daybell said. "However, I know more than most people. I know where they are, and what they're doing. I know how wonderful heaven is and I'm homesick for it every single day. Heaven is more wonderful than you can possibly imagine. I do not fear death, but I look forward to it."

Defense says Vallow Daybell is 'very misunderstood person'

Defense attorney John Thomas said Monday that Vallow Daybell "is a very misunderstood person" whose "motto is love is the key."

"We ache with the victims in this case," Thomas said. "There's a lot of hurt surrounding this case and that hurt can sometimes be manifest as hate. I think that Lori Daybell is probably the most hated person in America right now and maybe the world. But that hate will never bring closure to the victims that hate will never bring about the healing to those who are hurt by this case."

Vallow Daybell claimed to friends that her children were "zombies" and she was a goddess sent to usher in the biblical apocalypse.

Vallow Daybell talks about dying and rebirth

During her address to the court Monday, Vallow Daybell claimed she died while giving birth to Ryan in 2002 and visited heaven before being revived by doctors. Because of this, she said she has "access to heaven and the spirit world."

She went on to add that she is able to communicate with people in Heaven, including her children and Tammy Daybell. Vallow Daybell claimed that the victims have reached out to her from heaven and told her they "are happy and busy in the spirit world."

Boyce at one point discussed her alleged religious motivations.

"As the state was able to prove at trial, you chose the most evil and destructive path possible," he said. "You killed those children... [and] you justified all of this by going down a bizarre religious rabbit hole and clearly you are still down there."

'Lori needs to pay'

Ronald Douglas, Tammy Daybell's father, wrote an impact statement that was read to the court by Gwillian Monday.

"Tammy's death was unexpected and had a profound impact on all of us," Douglas wrote. "The eternal ramification of her actions are yet to be calculated. Lori needs to pay for her action according to the laws of mortals. She will still answer according to the laws of God when she passes from this life."

Rexburg police Detective Ray Hermosillo testified during Vallow Daybell's trial that her son JJ’s body was bound with duct tape, wrapped in plastic and buried under a tree in Chad Daybell's backyard. Her daughter Tylee’s body had been burned and destroyed – a mass of blood and tissue placed in a partially melted plastic bucket and buried in a part of the backyard the Daybell family called the "pet cemetery," Hermosillo said.

Many of Vallow Daybell's critics said her crimes should have been eligible for the death penalty if she was convicted, similar to the death penalty facing Chad Daybell, said John Delatorre, a forensic and disaster psychologist who has been following the case since the beginning. Judge Boyce previously ruled against Vallow Daybell facing the death penalty if convicted.

"I think most people are somewhat disappointed that the death penalty was removed," Delatorre said.

Thomas, Vallow Daybell's attorney, said removing the death penalty option is "a win for all humanity" at the sentencing hearing Monday.

Lori Vallow Daybell faces additional murder charges

Vallow Daybell is also facing additional charges in Arizona related to murders and attempted murders that prosecutors say she helped plan in 2019.

In May, Vallow Daybell was indicted on charges that she conspired to kill her niece's husband, Brandon Boudreaux. This follows a separate indictment charge in 2021 for conspiring to kill her fourth husband and JJ's father, Charles Vallow.

Kay Woodcock, JJ's grandmother, said in a victim impact statement that Monday "marks 1,481 days that have been filled with terror" beginning with the death of her brother, Charles Vallow.

"This was the beginning of her cruel campaign of terror, a campaign that resulted in the deaths of JJ and Tylee, innocent children, and Tammy, a devoted mother, grandmother and wife," Woodcock said. "JJ and Tylee could have been with us living happy lives. Instead, she took all that away, all because she is a money-hungry power-mongering monster."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lori Vallow Daybell, mother of murdered children, sentenced to life