Tammy Daybell may have been restrained when she died, Utah medical examiner says

Lori Vallow Daybell turns her back to everyone in court, left alone at the defense table, during her murder trial in Boise on Friday.

Lori Vallow Daybell turns her back to everyone in court, left alone at the defense table, during her murder trial in Boise on Friday. (Lisa Cheney)

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BOISE — Tammy Daybell may have been restrained when she died from asphyxiation, Utah's chief medical examiner testified Monday in the murder trial for Lori Vallow Daybell.

Dr. Erik Christensen said during the autopsy for Tammy Daybell, bruises were discovered that likely occurred around the time she died. He said these bruises are consistent with someone being restrained, and support the finding that her cause of death was asphyxia — being deprived of oxygen.

The bruises were found on her arms and chest, and photos of the bruises on her body were shown to jurors, while marks of bruises on a figure were shown publicly in the courtroom. Christensen said the bruises are from "acute injuries" that occurred "most likely prior" to her death, likely in the few hours before her death.

He testified about performing her autopsy, which was conducted on Dec. 11, 2019, after her body was exhumed from a cemetery in Springville.

Doctors determined her cause of death is a "diagnosis of exclusion" that requires other causes to be excluded. There are two natural causes for asphyxia — seizures and heart arrhythmia, both of which Christensen explained would be unusual for a woman with Tammy Daybell's age and health.

Her husband, Chad Daybell, reported seizure-like activity to the coroner, but Christensen said there was no support for that in her medical records. He also reported that she was coughing and vomiting and he noticed her torso and head had fallen off the bed at around 5:40 a.m.

Christensen also said pink foam found around her mouth is a fluid that leaks into airways when people die. He said it can happen in asphyxiation and was a factor in ruling out other causes of death.

The autopsy also revealed signs that Tammy Daybell was laying on her back immediately after her death for a while. Christiansen said police officers reported that her body was stiff and cold when they arrived, which typically happens after a person is dead at least an hour or two but it could be even longer.

Christensen estimated she died hours before Chad Daybell reported her death.

Utah's chief medical examiner Dr. Erik Christensen testifies Monday in the murder trial of Lori Vallow Daybell in Boise.
Utah's chief medical examiner Dr. Erik Christensen testifies Monday in the murder trial of Lori Vallow Daybell in Boise. (Photo: Lisa Cheney)

Lori Daybell is on trial for murder, conspiracy and grand theft in the deaths of her two children, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old JJ Vallow. She is also charged with conspiracy in connection with Tammy Daybell's death. Chad Daybell, Lori Daybell's new husband, is charged with murder for the same three deaths and will face a separate trial at a later date.

In other testimony Monday, a DNA analyst testified that a piece of hair stuck to an adhesive came from Lori Daybell.

Earlier in the trial, investigators said they sent a hair for testing that was found on duct tape wrapped around the body of Lori Daybell's son JJ, whose remains were found buried in the backyard of her new husband's home in Salem, Idaho. Keeley Coleman did not specify during her testimony whether that was the same hair, but it is assumed that it was.

Coleman said the hair was tested against three DNA profiles, including those for Daybell, her daughter Tylee Ryan and family friend Melanie Gibb. The probability of the hair belonging to Daybell compared to a random DNA profile is one in 71 billion, she testified.

The analyst did say that 13 out of 22 markers did not have a result, which is a lot, but she said most hair samples return partial DNA profiles.

Keely Coleman and Rick Wright testify in the murder trial for Lori Vallow Daybell on Monday in Boise.
Keely Coleman and Rick Wright testify in the murder trial for Lori Vallow Daybell on Monday in Boise. (Photo: Lisa Cheney)

Location data

Rick Wright, a contract special investigator with the FBI, testified Monday about how officers narrowed down the timeline of when each of the two children was last seen alive. He said shortly after they began looking for JJ, after his grandparents requested a welfare check, they realized Tylee was also missing.

Law enforcement subsequently began looking into the death of Tammy Daybell, the shooting death of Lori Daybell's former husband Charles Vallow, and an October 2019 shooting directed at Brandon Boudreaux, the estranged husband of Lori Daybell's niece, Wright said.

He evaluated cellphone data, including locations from Lori Daybell's brother Alex Cox and photographs associated with her iCloud account.

He said on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, the family was in Yellowstone and based on photograph time stamps, Wright said he "has confidence" Tylee returned home after that trip at 8:37 p.m. This is the last day Tylee was seen alive.

Wright said data from Cox's phone shows him traveling with the family to Yellowstone, returning to Lori Daybell's apartment, getting gas, and going to his apartment in the same complex. Later that night between 2:42 a.m. and 3:37 a.m. on Sept. 9, 2019, he was at Lori Daybell's apartment.

Wright said those two pings are the only times he found when Cox had been at his sister's apartment between those hours of midnight and 6 a.m.

In the morning, Cox left his apartment at 9 a.m. and traveled to Chad Daybell's property. He stayed there — with locations pinging his phone behind the residence — until about 11:45 a.m. when he drove to a Del Taco fast-food restaurant, according to Wright.

Friday testimony:

Wright said an examination of these data points months later, paired with a text that day from Chad Daybell to his then-wife Tammy Daybell describing how he had shot and buried a raccoon in the backyard, set off a red flag for investigators and they determined they wanted to get a warrant for the property.

JJ's death is estimated to be a few weeks later on the night of Sept. 22, 2019. Wright also looked at cellphone location data from that night and said it appeared that Cox went between the two apartments multiple times. He was at Lori Daybell's apartment between 5:12 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. and 8:04 p.m. and 8:10 p.m.

The next morning, Cox traveled to Chad Daybell's house in the morning again and was there between 9:55 a.m. and 10:12 a.m. before going to Lori Daybell's apartment. Wright said after looking at the grave it likely would have taken more than 17 minutes for one person to dig the grave — but it could have been done in that time with more people or more equipment.

Wright said Cox was at Chad Daybell's home four separate times in September — on Sept. 6, Sept. 9, Sept. 23 and Sept. 25.

Other interesting information revealed in Wright's testimony includes:

  • Cox visited Dan's Window Tinting in Rexburg multiple times in late September; Boudreaux reported he was shot at by someone in a Jeep with tinted windows that looked like Tylee's Jeep.
  • Cox went to a shooting range multiple times in late September 2019 and early October 2019, and stopped attending suddenly in mid-October.
  • Someone fired at Tammy Daybell on Oct. 9, 2019. Clothes matching the description of what she reported the shooter was wearing that day were purchased by Cox on that same day. His cellphone location also puts him around Chad Daybell's home between 4:50 p.m. and 5:03 p.m. that day.
  • Cox purchased phones at Walmart on Sept. 25, 2019, and Oct. 8, 2019. The second device shows 10 texts sent to Chad Daybell on Oct. 9 that could not be recovered.
  • On Oct. 18, Cox drove back to Idaho, after a drive to the Las Vegas airport to drop Lori Daybell off for a flight to Hawaii. Cox's phone was located at a church parking lot 2.6 miles from the Daybell home between 10:07 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Tammy Daybell's estimated time of death is in the morning of the next day, Oct. 19.

Wright said he did not look at any location data for Lori Daybell and had location data from Cox for September and October.

Contributing: Lauren Steinbrecher


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Emily Ashcraft joined KSL.com as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.


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