ST. ANTHONY, Idaho — Using testimony and evidence from police and others, prosecutors spent Monday outlining their case against Chad Daybell, who has been accused of destroying or hiding the bodies of his wife’s daughter and son.
In a preliminary hearing that spanned several hours, Madison County, Idaho, prosecutors used the evidence and testimonies to assert that authorities were immediately skeptical of 52-year-old Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell from the time they were asked to conduct a welfare check on Joshua Jaxon “J.J.” Vallow in November 2019. They also used it to show how evidence collected over the ensuing months helped lead them to 7-year-old J.J. and 17-year-old Tylee Ryan’s bodies on Daybell’s property in June.
Evidence admitted into court included Rexburg police’s first encounter with Vallow on Nov. 26, 2019, as they inquired about J.J.’s welfare, as well as a 21-minute phone conversation between Vallow, Daybell and a friend, Melanie Gibb, on Dec. 8, 2019.
A pair of photos, which were described to be the last photos ever taken of the children, were also included in the evidence. One shows Tylee at Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019, and the other shows J.J. sitting on a couch on Sept. 22, 2019. Both photos were collected as a part of a search warrant of Vallow’s iCloud account. Rexburg police detective Ray Hermosillo told the court that even after hundreds of tips police received in the children's disappearance case and reviewing many photos, there was no proof of life they could find following those particular photos.
Other evidence included phone data records from Vallow's brother, Alex Cox, and autopsy results of the two children.
Early skepticism in the case
Rexburg police were initially asked by Arizona police to provide "intermittent surveillance" on Vallow in early November before being asked to conduct a welfare check on J.J., which was conducted on Nov. 26, 2019.
During Monday's hearing, the state called three police officers who handled the investigation from that moment. Hermosillo provided the majority of the details pertaining to Daybell. He spent nearly three hours on the stand answering questions from prosecutors and Daybell's defense attorney regarding the case during his examination and cross-examination.
Hermosillo said he first encountered Daybell and Cox when attempting to check on J.J. on Nov. 26, 2019. Cox told police that Vallow wasn’t home at the time. When asked if J.J. was at home, Cox initially didn’t respond. But then, after looking at Daybell, Cox said J.J. was with his grandmother, Kay Woodcock, in Louisiana, Hermosillo recalled.
“I told Mr. Cox that was unlikely because Kay was the one who originally called in the welfare check,” Hermosillo said, adding that Cox stated he didn’t have his sister’s phone number.
Hermosillo also thought it was “suspicious” that Cox, who died in December 2019, didn’t have Vallow’s phone number because initial investigations indicated the two were close. Cox and Daybell provided police with an apartment address for Vallow, where police went but didn’t receive a response.
Police observed Daybell drive up to the area in his car and watch as officers knocked on the door. When police asked Daybell for Vallow’s number, he stated he didn’t have it, yet one of the evidence items entered into court was a marriage certificate for Daybell and Vallow dated earlier in the month.
“I, again, found it suspicious because I knew that they were married two weeks prior to my contact with Mr. Daybell,” Hermosillo continued. “I asked Mr. Daybell how he knew Lori Daybell, and he stated that he had only met her a couple of times through Alex Cox.”
After he was asked again, Daybell gave police Vallow’s number. Hermosillo stated that Daybell told police he didn’t originally provide her number because he felt he was being accused of something; Hermosillo testified no accusations were made in their first conversations with Cox and Daybell.
“Based on Mr. Daybell’s actions, Mr. Cox’s actions (and) what I was told about them hardly knowing each other, I felt like there was something more going on about the whereabouts of J.J., so I wanted more officers over there,” Hermosillo said.
The initial contact was not recorded because it is not common practice to wear body cameras, Hermosillo later said when cross-examined by Daybell’s attorney, John Prior.
While Hermosillo didn’t speak with Vallow on Nov. 26, 2019, Rexburg police detective David Stubbs and Rexburg Police Lt. Ron Ball made contact with Vallow twice that day. Stubbs was brought in Monday afternoon to go over those interviews, which were recorded through a police body camera. The footage, which was played in court, was also added in as evidence in the case Monday afternoon.
While visuals of the video were not permitted to be recorded by media Monday, media were permitted to report on the audio. In it, Vallow told police that J.J. was with Gibb in Arizona, which contradicted what Cox said according to Hermosillo's testimony. She also told police that Tylee was enrolled at BYU-Idaho, and that she took J.J. out of school in Idaho so he could be enrolled in school in Arizona.
During the conversation with police, she mentioned that one of her brothers was trying to kill her and family members were trying to take her children from her.
"I don't tell people the truth about where we are and what we're doing because of those reasons. I look like a suspect, but I'm a good person — raised all of my kids, did everything I'm supposed to do in life, but everyone is causing me trouble right now ... I feel like I'm being tracked all the time, like why are police coming to my door?" Vallow said in the video.
She later referred to Daybell, who was her husband at this point, as her brother's friend.
A search warrant was conducted at the apartment units of Cox, Vallow and a friend, Melani Boudreaux, the following day. During those searches, police found one unit — the address Cox and Daybell provided — completely vacant. They found a prescription pill bottle and also a suitcase with J.J.'s name on it in another; there was food but no clothing in that apartment, Hermosillo testified.
Wynn Hill, dean of students at BYU-Idaho, testified to the court shortly after the video was played that nobody with Tylee’s possible last names and date of birth had either applied to go to BYU-Idaho or had been enrolled.
Tracking down what happened to J.J. and Tylee
Vallow was arrested in Hawaii back in February after an Idaho judge ordered that she produce the children. When she didn't, she was charged with abandoning the children. Those charges were dropped last month after charges related to the children’s deaths were filed.
As Vallow’s court case was ongoing, Stubbs testified he obtained Cox’s Google phone data through a search warrant. The data was so vast, he told the court it would be about 28,000 pages if printed out on paper.
He used the data to put together coordinates for each time Cox’s phone pinged. Through this, they tied together where Cox was, and that led officers to a spot on Daybell's property where J.J. and Tylee's bodies were discovered. The phone data, as well as a pair of maps Stubbs created from the data, were added in as evidence in the case against Daybell.
Hermosillo went into detail about the discovery of the children's bodies, which were dug up from a field on Daybell's property on June 9.
He said police began digging in a location where the grass appeared different from other spots on the land. They dug until they hit rocks; after removing the rocks and thin wood paneling underneath them, investigators smelled the odor of a decaying body, Hermosillo said. From there, they were able to remove the body of a child later confirmed to be J.J.
Later that day, they uncovered a second body that was partially burnt. The second body, later confirmed to be Tylee's, was removed the following day to allow crews to dig up all of the remains.
Some family members were in attendance and wiped away tears as Hermosillo described the moments as J.J. and Tylee’s remains were discovered.
Hermosillo went into detail about the autopsy as well. Taking some pauses, he described the clothes J.J. was found in and said his haircut matched the last image taken of him in September 2019. He said J.J.'s mouth, head, wrists and ankles were wrapped with duct tape and a plastic bag was placed over his head, as well.
“I recognized that to be the same little boy that was on the table,” Hermosillo said, referring to photos he had seen of J.J. during the investigation and viewing the autopsy.
Friend recounts tie-in from J.J. welfare check
Gibb was the final witness to approach the stand Monday. She told the court about her friendship with the two — which she said began a few years ago — and a stay she had with Vallow and Daybell in mid-September. But the majority of the testimony focused on what happened on Nov. 26, 2019, after Vallow told police J.J. was in Arizona with Gibb, and then a 21-minute phone call with them on Dec. 8, 2019.
Gibb said she was at her boyfriend’s home in Pleasant Grove, Utah, when she received a phone call from Daybell the morning police conducted the welfare check. Daybell told her Rexburg police would soon call her and instructed her not to pick up, Gibb testified. She said she was “shocked."
"I did say, after the shock, I said 'J.J.'s not at Kay's house?' ... He said 'no,'" Gibb told the court. "I asked him if he was nervous and he said 'yes.'"
Gibb added she also received a call from Vallow about an hour or two later.
"(Vallow) was upbeat, cheery, acting like nothing was wrong. She told me the police had been there asking for J.J. and that she told police that I had J.J. and was at a movie called 'Frozen,'" Gibb said. "She asked me to just pick up my phone and take a random picture of kids running around ... and after me driving home from Utah to Arizona, that she would come and get him that week."
Vallow said Woodcock was "trying to kidnap" J.J. and that she was not telling anyone where J.J. was to protect him, Gibb testified.
Gibb continued, saying she didn’t respond to a call and a text from Rexburg police that day. Recalling that day many months later, Gibb said she didn’t respond because she was "very confused" as to what to do based on what she was told by Vallow and Daybell.
"I had a really bad feeling in my stomach and I felt very shooken up by it," Gibb told the court, adding that she had no idea what to do.
Instead, she responded to a Gilbert, Arizona, police officer later that day. She told the officer J.J. was with her but she had returned him to Vallow. When asked why she lied about having J.J. at any point that day, Gibb said she hoped her response would deflect the attention back on Vallow.
Gibb later confronted Vallow and Daybell in a phone call. She reached out to the Arizona officer again a little more than a week later with audio of the conversation she recorded with them. The recording was played during Monday's hearing.
During the call, Vallow and Daybell insisted they were trying to keep J.J., Gibb and everyone else protected by not speaking with police. They told Gibb that they said J.J. was with her so nobody would know "where he really was." Vallow told Gibb it was because her family was "working against her" at that point and was afraid Woodcock would be awarded custody of J.J.
"I'm just not telling anybody so nobody has to say where he is or get questioned where he is, so I can keep him as safe as possible," Vallow said, in the recording.
The conversation sours from there. At one point, Vallow asks if Gibb is recording the conversation for the police. The audio abruptly ends after about 21 minutes from either Vallow hanging up or the call dropping.
Prior said he had many questions he would like to ask Gibb but the Daybell defense requested the court to postpone their cross-examination until Tuesday morning due to time constraints, which a judge granted. The two sides are expected to resume the preliminary hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday.