Voices: Lori Vallow never tried to convince us she was innocent

Lori Vallow Daybell talks with her lawyers before the jury’s verdict is read at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho (AP)
Lori Vallow Daybell talks with her lawyers before the jury’s verdict is read at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise, Idaho (AP)

More than three and a half years after her children were brutally killed and buried, Lori Vallow is set to face 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 now, 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 Friday (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, this verdict comes as little surprise given that two days prior, her attorneys declined to call any witnesses in her defense.

Having followed this case in near-obsessive detail since police first appealed for the public’s help in finding Tylee and JJ in December 2019, my jaw dropped when the defense rested without a case. Why on earth would someone decline to defend themself at a murder trial, especially when their own children are the victims? But looking back over the case as a whole, I realized the move isn’t surprising at all.

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 with 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 kids’ 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 and 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 in court this week, 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 as their bodies decomposed in the ground?

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” force peddling “nutty” religious beliefs. They urged the jury to take a close look at all of the evidence and find that it leads 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 — is indeed compelling, it leaves one more crucial question: Why did we never hear this from Lori?

In the end, an hour-long closing argument wasn’t enough to create reasonable doubt that Lori killed her children. In staying silent from beginning to end, Lori Vallow sealed her own fate.