Alex Cox's role in murder case detailed in Lori Daybell trial

Prosecutor Rachel Smith questions witness Zulema Pastenes, the wife of Lori Vallow Daybell's brother Alex Cox, in Daybell's murder trial Friday.

Prosecutor Rachel Smith questions witness Zulema Pastenes, the wife of Lori Vallow Daybell's brother Alex Cox, in Daybell's murder trial Friday. (Lisa Cheney)

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BOISE — The first week of arguments and witness testimony in the trial of Lori Vallow Daybell ended Friday with chilling new insight into the role of Alex Cox, Lori Daybell's brother who himself wondered whether he was his sister's "fall guy" shortly before he died in December 2019.

Lori Daybell has been charged with conspiracy, murder and grand theft in the deaths of her two children, JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan. She is also charged in connection to the death of Tammy Daybell, the late wife of Chad Daybell.

Weeks after Tammy Daybell's death, Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell were married in Hawaii — and Cox, as he was described on Friday, was the couple's "warrior."

That's according to Zulema Pastenes, who was briefly married to Cox before his death, and on Friday gave prosecutors a detailed look into her late husband's role in Lori Daybell's inner circle.

Pastenes first met Lori Daybell in 2018 at a friend's house, during a religious gathering. The two became close and would travel to Arizona, Utah and Idaho to watch Chad Daybell speak on his fringe beliefs. She watched Lori Vallow Daybell and Chad Daybell quickly fall for each other.

The two brought Pastenes into their tightly knit group, where they would talk of past lives, and the belief that people can be possessed by evil spirits. They also introduced her to Cox, and by the summer of 2019 the two began dating.

Cox, more than "anybody else" in their circle, believed in demonic possession, and that "dark spirits" were dangerous, Pastenes testified Friday. Eventually, the entire family moved to Rexburg, Idaho, following the shooting death of Lori Vallow's husband, Charles Vallow, at the hands of Cox. Though the shooting was deemed self-defense at the time, a grand jury in Arizona's Maricopa County has indicted Lori Daybell of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Pastenes said when she asked Cox if he was OK following the shooting, he responded: "Zulema, he was a zombie."

Pastenes traveled to Rexburg to visit the family in September. Though she remembers seeing 7-year-old JJ, when Pastenes asked Lori Daybell where Tylee was, she told her "she had to be free."

"When I tried to ask her what she meant by that, she lifted her hand and put it up to my face and said, 'Don't ask,'" Pastenes said.

Chad and Lori Daybell both urged Pastenes to move to Rexburg — the small community would be a "place of refuge" during the end times, Lori Daybell said. They also pushed Cox and Pastenes to get married, which they did on Dec. 1, 2019.

Shortly after Pastenes' September visit, on Oct. 9, Tammy Daybell was shot at in her driveway by a masked man. That same night, Pastenes was with Lori Daybell and her niece, Melanie Boudreaux, when they got a call.

"She was very, very angry, scary angry," Pastenes said, describing what she could hear of the call.

On Monday, prosecutor Lindsey A. Blake described the same call. "He can't do anything right," Lori Daybell said after the call, though it was unclear who she was referring to. Prosecutors also said Cox's cellphone was in the vicinity of Tammy Daybell's home the day she was shot at.

Ten days later, Tammy Daybell died in her sleep. Prosecutors on Monday said she died by asphyxiation at the hands of another person. The day after the funeral, Pastenes said Chad Daybell moved into Lori Vallow Daybell's apartment.

"Isn't that a little too fast, when there should be some time for grieving?" she told Lori Daybell, according to her testimony. Daybell did not respond.

Pastenes also explained how the group slowly unraveled, starting with Lori Daybell and her new husband moving to Hawaii, just weeks after trying to convince her, and everyone else, to move to Rexburg. The couple stopped communicating with Cox, which Pastenes said upset him.

"Can you believe they're being such jerks after how much I helped them? Now they don't even want to talk to me," Cox said around Thanksgiving, according to Pastenes.

Then Pastenes got a call from Melanie Gibb, Lori Daybell's former best friend, who told her about the missing children.

"She felt that we had been deceived by Chad and Lori," Pastenes said, telling prosecutors she became "distraught."

"I didn't know what to think or how to process that information. To hear my friend saying that all this was happening, and then at the same time knowing how much trust I had put into these two people, it was very, very confusing."

When she confronted Cox about it, "he was very quiet, not his usual self ... he just didn't answer me," Pastenes said.

Cox died on Dec. 12, 2019, the day after Tammy Daybell's body was exhumed. Pastenes on Friday detailed the evening leading up to his death.

After a long day at work, she came into her bedroom to find Cox, who at this point had moved to Arizona, on the phone with Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow Daybell, who were telling him about the exhumation.

"I was very confused at the reason why they would be exhuming Tammy's body," she said. "And I asked him if he was involved in anything that could do with Tammy's death. ... He said no."

Pastenes continued to press Cox. She told prosecutors it was a "weird and so bizarre" conversation.

"He was very quiet and unresponsive, and then he said, 'I think I'm being their fall guy,'" Pastenes recalled. "I said, 'Fall guy for what? What is it that you have done? What have you done that you would be the fall guy for?'"

Pastenes said Cox wouldn't give her a straight answer. As she walked away, he told her: "Zulema, either I am a man of God, or I am not."

The next day, he was dead.

Testimony in the case will resume Tuesday.

Clarification: An earlier version quoted Zulema Pastenes' testimony, where she describes a phone call. In her quote, it is unclear whether Pastenes said Lori Daybell or Melanie Boudreaux was speaking on the phone. This version has been updated to reflect that, and to include quotes from the prosecution's opening argument about the call.


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Kyle Dunphey
Kyle Dunphey is a reporter on the Utah InDepth team, covering a mix of topics including politics, the environment and breaking news. A Vermont native, he studied communications at the University of Utah and graduated in 2020. Whether on his skis or his bike, you can find Kyle year-round exploring Utah’s mountains.


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