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Lori Vallow finally broke her silence at sentencing. It was too late

For all of the twists and turns that preceded it, Lori’s life sentence comes as little surprise

Megan Sheets
Tuesday 01 August 2023 17:14 BST
Moment Lori Vallow sentenced to life in prison with no parole for murders of her children

Nearly four years after her children were brutally killed and buried, Lori Vallow has been sentenced to life in prison for their murders.

What began as a small-town search for two missing children in the fall of 2019 quickly exploded into an unimaginable saga with too many twists and turns to count, including the exposure of at least five mystery deaths, a doomsday cult preparing for the end of times and a joyful beach wedding between that cult’s two recently-widowed leaders. The world watched as Lori’s portrait transformed from devoted mother-of-three to accused child abandoner to murder suspect — and finally, convicted killer.

A jury in Boise, Idaho, took just seven hours of deliberation to find the so-called “cult mom” guilty of the murders of her 16-year-old daughter Tylee Ryan and seven-year-old son Joshua “JJ” Vallow on 12 May. She was also convicted of conspiracy to murder her fifth husband Chad Daybell’s first wife, Tammy. For all of the twists and turns that preceded it in Lori’s spectacular story, the guilty verdict came as little surprise given that her attorneys had declined to call any witnesses in her defense.

But two months later, Lori stunned the court when she made an unprecedented move to defend herself publicly for the first time. At her sentencing on 31 July, Lori sobbed in a bizarre statement where she denied that any murders took place and insisted that her victims are “very happy”.

Having followed this tragic case in near-obsessive detail, I could spend endless hours analysing each line of her sentencing statement. But perhaps the most important aspect is that it came far, far too late; her fate was already sealed by the years of silence that preceded it.

When Lori’s children vanished in September 2019, she alerted no one to their disappearance as she continued collecting their Social Security and life insurance benefits. Just weeks later, Lori glowed on a Hawaiian beach at her wedding to Chad, whose own wife had died — in an apparent murder conspiracy – 17 days prior.

When police in Rexburg, Idaho, came knocking for a welfare check at the request of JJ’s grandparents two months after the children were last seen, Lori dismissed their concern before going on the run the following day.

When Lori and Chad were tracked down to Hawaii in January 2020, the sunkissed couple kept silent, their eyes trained on their flip-flops, as a news crew confronted them in a parking lot asking where JJ and Tylee were.

When Lori was extradited back to Idaho on charges for failing to meet a court order to present the children before a judge, she chose jail over revealing what she knew about the childens’ whereabouts while vaguely saying they were “safe” and “happy”.

After her two children’s bodies were recovered from Chad’s property, she still gave no public explanation or pronouncement of innocence, aside from not guilty pleas entered before the court. Even when Lori’s loved ones, including her eldest son, sister and longtime best friend, made one-on-one pleas for the truth, she brushed them off.

Across the three years and eight months from when the children were killed and buried in the Daybell family’s pet cemetery to when her trial began, Lori never made an obvious effort to convince anyone she wasn’t involved. When her final chance to do so came at trial, she again chose not to. Instead, the defense gambled on the possibility jurors wouldn’t accept the case presented by prosecutors through five weeks of testimony from 60 witnesses.

In a powerful closing statement, the prosecution seized upon a string of crucial questions unfurled over the course of the “cult mom” saga. Why didn’t Lori report the children missing? Why did she collect thousands of dollars in benefits meant for them? Why was she on a beach in Hawaii during a multi-state search? Why did she repeatedly claim they were safe?

The answer to all of these questions, prosecutors said, is simple: because she killed her children, motivated by “money, sex and power”.

In the defense closing, Lori’s attorneys sought to shift blame onto Chad, savagely painting him as a “controlling”, forcefully peddling “nutty” religious beliefs. They urged the jury to take a close look at all of the evidence, suggesting that it lead back to him, not Lori.

While the idea that Chad bears all of the responsibility — for the murders and for Lori’s actions around them — was indeed compelling, it left one more crucial question: Why did we never hear this from Lori?

Two months on from the guilty verdict, Lori finally tried to tell us her side at sentencing. Her statement held very little resemblance to what the defense had suggested at trial - with no mention of Chad or the doomsday cult, and no attempt to answer any of the aforementioned questions. Instead, she denied that the murders took place at all.

“Jesus knows that no one was murdered in this case,” she told the court. She said she knew through “many communications” with people in heaven that her children and Tammy are “very happy” in the afterlife - and that she is excited to join them one day.

Judge Steven Boyce wasn’t swayed. In handing down five life terms without parole, the judge noted both Lori’s months of silence and her attempts to be excused from the trial. “It is the most shocking thing I can imagine, that a mother killed their own children, and you simply have no remorse for it,” he said. “There is no remorse for what you did.”

We’ll never know whether the course of this trial would have been altered by Lori speaking out sooner. But she now has the rest of her life to ponder that question in a cell.

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