(NewsNation) — On Monday, Lori Vallow’s trial begins in Ada County, Idaho, where prosecutors will try to prove the “doomsday” mom carried out a plan to kill her two children and then covered up the deaths in order to steal social security funds.
Authorities began investigating Vallow and her husband Chad Daybell after Vallow’s two children — 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow disappeared just weeks apart in September 2019. Their bodies were later found buried in Daybell’s backyard.
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Vallow is also accused of conspiring to kill Tammy Daybell, Chad’s then-wife who died unexpectedly shortly after Vallow’s children disappeared. She has pleaded not guilty to murder, conspiracy and grand theft charges.
Court documents filed last week provide some insight into the prosecution’s case and legal experts NewsNation spoke to expect more previously unknown evidence to be presented at trial.
Lori Vallow said she was in her own apartment when her two children died, claiming the crime occurred in her brother’s apartment, according to a “notice of alibi” filed in January.
But prosecutors don’t have to show Vallow killed her children to find her guilty of murder as long as they’re able to prove she “aided and abetted” the crime.
“If she was a central part of it, that could be sufficient for the murder charges,” said NewsNation’s legal contributor Jesse Weber.
Vallow’s alibi filing suggests her defense team may point the blame at her now-deceased brother, Alex Cox. It’s a strategy Weber says makes sense given the fact that Cox isn’t alive to defend himself.
Vallow’s brother has been linked to the killings throughout the investigation but died of a blood clot in December 2019. Authorities say Cox’s cell phone was in Daybell’s backyard the day after Tylee Ryan disappeared and then again after JJ disappeared.
Prosecutors are expected to present evidence that shows Vallow, Daybell and Cox were all working together.
If the state proves Vallow facilitated the murders, rather than carried them out herself, Idaho attorney Jessica Bublitz said the punishment will be the same.
“Even if they find that Alex Cox was the one who committed the offense, [Vallow] carries the same potential life sentence,” Bublitz said.
the key evidence
It appears prosecutors will make the case that Daybell and Vallow endorsed and espoused religious beliefs “for the purpose of encouraging and/or justifying” the murders of Tylee, JJ and Tammy, based on the jury instructions.
Friends of the couple previously told investigators that the pair believed people could be taken over by dark spirits, and that Vallow referred to her children as “zombies.”
But perhaps the most damning evidence against Vallow, both legal experts agreed, is that she lied repeatedly about her children’s disappearance.
Less than two months after the kids were last seen, JJ’s grandmother asked police to check in because she hadn’t heard from him. When authorities conducted a welfare check, Vallow lied and said JJ was in Arizona with a friend.
“If your children are missing…you should be absolutely devastated and scared and worried,” said Bublitz. “Her behavior doesn’t fit somebody who had nothing to do with it and I don’t think the public is going to buy that.”
Weber said the lack of candor about her children’s whereabouts may end up being “the smoking gun” that connects Vallow to the crimes.
Prosecutors are also expected to argue that Vallow lied about her children in order to collect their social security survivor’s benefits after they died.
DNA evidence is also likely to play a role, although it’s unclear what prosecutors have and whether it will tie Vallow, or Daybell, to the scene.
Earlier this month, an Idaho judge took the death penalty off the table for Vallow after prosecutors disclosed additional evidence shortly before the trial was set to begin. The “doomsday” mom still faces life in prison for her alleged crimes.
The trial begins on Monday and is expected to last as long as 10 weeks.