‘Monster’ Lori Vallow is confronted by victims’ sobbing families at sentencing: ‘Cruel campaign of terror’

‘Cult mom’ refused to look her victims’ devastated family members in the eyes as they gave heartwrenching victim impact statements to the court

Rachel Sharp
Monday 31 July 2023 21:46 BST
Listen: Family give emotional impact statements as Lori Vallow sentenced

Cult mom” Lori Vallow was confronted by her victims’ sobbing family members at her sentencing hearing where they branded her a “monster” and described her 1,841-day “cruel campaign of terror”.

The 50-year-old convicted killer appeared in Fremont County Courthouse in Idaho on Monday morning to be sentenced for the murders of her two youngest children Tylee Ryan, 16, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and conspiracy to murder her new husband Chad Daybell’s first wife Tammy Daybell.

Sitting slouched cross-legged at the defence table, Vallow kept her head down and refused to look her victims’ devastated family members in the eyes as they gave heartwrenching impact statements to the court.

JJ’s grandmother Kay Woodcock broke down in tears as she said she will “never understand” how Vallow – who once appeared to be a caring, loving mother – could have murdered the son she “chose” to adopt.

“The deplorable woman that chose to be his mother, the woman who five years earlier made the conscious decision to stand in front of a judge and swore to provide for, care, love and protect him,” she sobbed.

“Lori always showed her deepest appreciation that we gave her the greatest gift ever, being JJ,” she said.

“That same mother murdered [her son]... and I will never understand it.”

Ms Woodcock is JJ’s biological grandmother and the sister of Vallow’s fourth husband Charles Vallow.

She told the court how when JJ was born, he spent time in the NICU and was born with drugs in his system because his parents struggled with substance abuse.

She described her joy as she and her husband Larry Woodcock took in JJ as their own son because his parents couldn’t care for him.

They “loved every minute of raising him”, she said, describing that time “as priceless”.

But, around a year later, Vallow and Charles Vallow adopted the little boy.

Sobbing, Ms Woodcock said that they all believed that would be best for JJ – who had autism – so he could grow up with younger, more energetic parents who had greater access to the resources he needed.

Lori Vallow appears for her sentencing hearing (Law & Crime)

Describing Vallow as a caring mother to JJ, Ms Woodcock said it was even more “mind-blowing” that the woman who “chose to be his mother” could a few years later be the same person to murder him.

“I knew it was the best thing for him. I knew she [Lori] would always be 1000 percent involved in his care... that is part of why this is so hard – how could someone [do this]... it’s mind-blowing and I will never understand it,” she said.

Ms Woodcock went on to speak of 16-year-old Tylee and how close the teenager was to her younger brother.

“It warmed our hearts seeing her and JJ together,” she said.

“The love they had for each other is evident in the last photo they have with each other,” she added, referring to the final photo of Tylee alive – an image of her taken on a trip to Yellowstone National Park with Cox, Vallow and JJ.

Ms Woodcock began her statement by reeling off a list of numbers and said they are “more than numbers”.

“Today marks 1,481 days that have been filled with terror,” she said.

“One was the day that my brother was murdered.”

In July 2019, Charles Vallow was shot dead by Vallow’s brother Alex Cox at her home in Arizona. Vallow is currently awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to murder for Charles’ killing in Arizona.

“This was the beginning of her cruel campaign of terror,” said Ms Woodcock of his death.

Ms Woodcock said that Vallow’s killing spree “all began with greed” as she sought to get a $1m life insurance policy following Charles Vallow’s death. She said she would have given her the money if she could only have just let JJ and Tylee live.

“I would have given her the money. She could have let JJ and Tylee live and have $1m,” she said.

“She could have been free to be Chad’s mistress and foot the bill with money from spilled blood. JJ and Tylee could have lived with us and had wonderful lives.”

Lori Vallow pictured in mugshot (Madison County Sheriff’s Office)

Following Charles Vallow’s murder, Ms Woodcock said that she was fearful for JJ’s safety as Vallow cut off contact but as her grandparent she said that – legally – she had no rights to step in and take him into her care.

When JJ and Tylee then went missing, she described “319 days” of “pure hell” where she feared the worst – only for it to be realised when their remains were found in Mr Daybell’s backyard.

“Nothing can describe the pure hell of not knowing where the children were,” she said.

“319 days from the last day we were allowed to be able to Facetime with JJ and the day we knew the children had been found, in Chad Daybell’s backyard, buried like animals.”

Vallow’s only surviving child Colby Ryan also gave a statement, read out by prosecutors, where he spoke of how much he and his siblings had lost as a result of his mother’s actions.

“I’ve watched everything crumble and shredded to pieces,” he said, speaking about all the things that Tylee and JJ will now never experience after their lives were cut short.

Tammy’s sister Samantha Gwilliam also took the stand to deliver an emotional victim impact statement where she dismissed Vallow’s doomsday cult beliefs that she and Mr Daybell are “exalted” beings and that their victims were “zombies” or “dark spirits”.

“You are a liar, an adultress and a murderer,” she told her.

“I am not a dark person or a zombie. For me and my family to be presented that way is unacceptable,” she said.

“Everyone knows what liars you are. They now know what horrible things you have done.

“You are not an exalted being. There is no huge event that is going to save you. No angels are coming to rescue you.”

Instead, she said that Vallow will now spend her life behind bars.

Ms Gwilliam also read out a statement from her father Ronald Douglas who spoke of “the eternal ramifications” of Vallow’s actions on their family.

Tylee Ryan and Joshua “JJ” Vallow (Family handout)

As well as taking away Tammy, Vallow’s actions had also torn apart the family that they still have left.

Following Tammy’s murder and the chilling revelations that came out over the past three years, Tammy’s mother’s health deteriorated significantly and she passed away.

Beyond that, Mr Douglas said that the family had also lost their relationship with Tammy and Mr Daybell’s five children – who he said have believed their father’s lies.

In her victim impact statement, Tammy’s aunt Vicki Hoban slammed Vallow’s “shameful” conduct during the murder trial, calling her out for “smirking, smiling, giggling, talking” – something that was “extremely disrespectful to watch”.

She said it was now time for Tammy’s story, and not Vallow’s.

“Tammy was beloved. There will be a huge void in our life. This is Tammy’s story. She was a mom, a grandma, a niece, a friend, a librarian,” she said.

“More than a librarian, she was a teacher. Her last days went to preparing a bookfair for underserved children.”

The night she was killed, she said she imagines Tammy went to bed with “no idea what the plan was for that night”.

“Unbeknownst to her, Lori had already killed two of her children. Tammy was already on her list of obstacles,” she said.

“Instead of a good night’s sleep, Tammy was brutally executed in her own bed. She was taken from us by murdering thieves.”

While Vallow did not look at the victims’ families as they spoke, she shocked the court by breaking her silence for the first time about the murders.

In the bizarre statement, the doomsday “cult mom” shockingly claimed that “no one was murdered”, read out a Bible quote, continued to channel her doomsday cult beliefs while claiming “I have had many communications with Jesus Christ”.

While her victims’ loved ones were forced to listen in horrorr, she claimed that she had communicated with Tylee and JJ as well as “her friend” Tammy from beyond the grave – and that they are “very happy”.

“Jesus Christ knows the truth. Jesus Christ knows no one was murdered in this case. Accidental deaths happened. Suicides happened. Fatal side effects of medications happened,” she said.

She claimed that she has had “many communications” from people in heaven and that “because of these communications I know for a fact that my children are happy” and busy in heaven.

Prosecutors asked the judge to give Vallow the maximum sentence of life in prison on each of the five murder charges, after the death penalty was taken off the table ahead of trial.

Meanwhile, Vallow’s attorney asked the judge to give her “hope” that the “most hated woman in America” could one day be free from prison.

Judge Steven Boyce sided with the state, ordering her to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

She was handed five life sentences for each murder charge and 10 years for one count of grand theft.

Her sentencing comes after Vallow was found guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft over the deaths of Tylee and JJ, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in Tammy’s death.

JJ and Tylee vanished without a trace in September 2019 – sparking fears for their safety from desperate family members all the while Vallow refused to say where they were.

One month later, Tammy – an otherwise healthy 49-year-old – also died suddenly. Her death was initially ruled natural causes.

Chad and Tammy Daybell before her death in October 2019 (Facebook)

This bizarre spate of disappearances and death came just months after Vallow’s fourth husband Charles Vallow was shot dead by Vallow’s brother Alex Cox in Arizona in July 2019.

With Vallow’s children and both of their spouses then out of the way, she and Mr Daybell embarked on a new life together – flying to Hawaii to get married in a fairytale wedding on the beach.

But, with months passing since the last signs of life of Vallow’s children, concerns continued to grow, prompting authorities to exhume Tammy’s body. A subsequent autopsy revealed that she had died by asphyxiation.

In June 2020 – nine months after they were last seen alive – Tylee and JJ’s remains were found buried on the grounds of Mr Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho.

JJ, who had autism, had been smothered with a plastic bag taped over his face, his little body still dressed in a pair of red pyjamas. Tylee’s cause of death meanwhile has been impossible to establish as the teenager’s dismembered, charred bones and body parts were found scattered in the ground on Mr Daybell’s pet cemetery.

Jurors in Ada County Court in Boise, Idaho, took almost seven hours to find Vallow guilty on all charges over the three murders after a grueling six-week trial where the panel heard harrowing details about the doomsday cult mom’s path of deadly destruction and were shown graphic images of the murdered children’s remains.

The state called over 60 witnesses to lay out its case that Vallow was motivated by both her cult beliefs but also lust for Mr Daybell and financial greed when she conspired with him and her brother Cox to kill the three victims.

In a bombshell move, Vallow’s attorneys declined to present any defence case or call any witnesses and the “cult mom” chose not to take the stand to give her side of the story.

Vallow’s legal troubles and the chilling case are far from over.

Following her sentencing, she is expected to be extradited to Arizona where she is awaiting trial on charges of conspiracy to murder her fourth husband Charles Vallow and the attempted murder of her niece’s husband Brandon Boudreaux.

Meanwhile, Mr Daybell is still awaiting trial for the murders of JJ, Tylee and Tammy – with a scheduled trial start date set for 1 April 2024.

But, the third person accused of being a co-conspirator in the case won’t ever have his day in court.

On 11 December 2019 – hours after Tammy’s body was exhumed – Cox died suddenly at the age of 51. His death was ruled natural causes, with indications of a blood clot wedged in the arteries of his lungs. However the overdose drug Narcan was also found in his system.

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