After days of testimony from acquaintances about Lori Vallow‘s fringe religious beliefs, seen as a motivating factor in the alleged conspiracy with husband Chad Daybell to murder her children Tylee Ryan and J.J. Vallow, an Idaho jury heard testimony from her surviving adult son, Colby Ryan.
“Oh my baby,” Vallow, 49, reportedly mouthed as Ryan, 27, entered the Boise courtroom. According to East Idaho News reporter Nate Eaton, Ryan mostly avoided eye contact with his mother during his appearance on the witness stand, even as she stared at him.
Vallow has pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and grand theft related to the deaths of her other two children (Tylee was 16, while J.J. was seven). The disturbing case began to draw attention after the two were declared missing at the end of 2019, with law enforcement ultimately finding their remains on the Daybell’s property in Rexburg, Idaho, the following June. Prosecutors say that Vallow and Daybell, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, developed bizarre and extreme religious concepts while engaged in an intimate relationship, then carried out a sprawling plot to kill their spouses as well as Vallow’s kids, all of whom they regarded as “zombies” possessed by evil spirits. (According to reports, in 2019, Daybell was excommunicated from the Church; Vallow’s current association is unclear.)
Ryan cried when he was asked to identify his younger siblings (Ryan had been legally adopted by Tylee’s father, Joseph Ryan, now deceased, while J.J. had been adopted by Lori and her fourth husband, Charles Vallow, also deceased). He then told the court that in 2019, his mother told him that Charles, his stepfather, had died of a heart attack — in fact, he’d been shot to death by Lori’s brother, Alex Cox, who later died of natural causes.
Ryan went on to testify that police contacted him in November 2019, seeking the whereabouts of Tylee and J.J. His text exchanges with Tylee were off around this time, he recalled, “in a different language than how Tylee would talk and type.” He didn’t think he was communicating with his sister. Ryan said he was unable to get answers from his mom about the kids, where she was and the circumstances of her sudden remarriage to Chad Daybell.
Under cross-examination, Ryan revealed that his mother had never tried to explain her belief that a person can be inhabited by an evil spirit that turns them “dark” or into a “zombie.” (Last week, Vallow’s former friend Melanie Gibb testified that she had referred to Tylee, J.J., and Charles Vallow as “zombies.”) While the defense team did not bring up how Ryan had been accused of rape by his estranged wife in September — criminal charges in the matter were dropped a week later — they did attempt to ask about a history of depression and suicidal thoughts. Judge Steven Boyce granted an objection to that question.
Asked by defense attorney Jim Archibald if he loved his mom, Ryan said, yes. To the question of whether she loved him, he replied, “I think so.”
But the most dramatic part of Ryan’s appearance in court today came as the jury listened to an emotional call between him and Vallow. She was already in jail, and J.J. and Tylee’s bodies had been found buried on Daybell’s property.
“Do you think you can hide from me?” Ryan asks her in the recording. Vallow says that he’s the one who didn’t want to talk to her. “Probably because you murdered my siblings,” Ryan responds.
“I have prayed for you in my worst moments, I have prayed for my siblings who you swore to me were okay,” Ryan tells Vallow. “I thought I could trust you. I thought that you were a completely different person.” Vallow says, “You’ve known me your whole life.” Ryan counters, “I don’t know a murderous mother.”
In the call, Ryan accuses Vallow of repeatedly lying to him and says she’s playing the victim despite what he knows about her life completely changing when she met Chad Daybell, an author of apocalyptic Mormon literature who was fascinated with near-death experiences and told Vallow they had been married in a past life. (Daybell is being tried separately for the murders and has also pleaded not guilty.)
“To know that they’re gone and you knew and my phone’s being texted by my little sister who is not even alive,” Ryan says. “My little brother, who is the sweetest little kid ever… you tell me this is God’s will, for my whole family, including my stepfather, to be dead — after everything that you’d tried to tell me, you can tell me right now that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, is on your side?” Vallow says that she can.
Ryan then yells at Vallow to explain how what happened to J.J. and Tylee could’ve been done in Jesus’ name. Vallow answers that nobody understands, but her dead children “love me, and they are fine, and they know the truth, and we are the only people that do.”
“My own mom, my siblings, my whole family, my dad — everyone is gone except my mom and you’re in jail because of it,” Ryan tells her. “I have prayed to Heavenly Father myself and asked him to help me survive this. Why are you following Chad down the rabbit hole? Why would you follow anyone who is not good?” He later adds, “I pray every day no matter how mad I am at you, no matter how bad I want to hit your husband in the face with a shovel, I pray for you, I pray for him. You ripped my heart out, you ripped everyone’s heart out.”
Aside from hearing of Vallow’s and Daybell’s bizarre ideas about possession and “casting,” a supposed process for exorcising demons, the jury in this trial has previously seen graphic autopsy photos of Tylee’s and J.J.’s remains. Vallow asked to be excused from court on that day, with her attorneys arguing that the evidence and testimony were too emotional, but Judge Boyce denied the motion. Alex Cox’s widow, Zulema Pastenes, subsequently testified that in the spiritual belief system taught by Vallow and Daybell, evil spirits can be kept out of the body by means of binding or fire. J.J. was unearthed bound in duct tape, while Tylee’s body had been partially burned.
This is the third week of Vallow’s trial, which is expected to last around two months. Judge Boyce ruled in March that she will not face the death penalty if convicted for the murders. She has been separately indicted, in Arizona, on charges of conspiring to kill former husband Charles Vallow.