It was a long day in court Aug. 3 at the Fremont County Courthouse in St. Anthony as the first day of Chad Daybell’s two-day preliminary hearing kicked off.
The preliminary hearing is the court proceeding at which Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins will decide whether there is sufficient evidence against defendant Daybell to move the case forward to a jury trial.
Daybell and his second wife, Lori Vallow, are each facing two felony counts involving the cover-up of the deaths of Vallow’s children, 7-year-old J.J. Vallow and 17-year-old and Tylee Ryan. The children’s bodies were found buried in Daybell’s backyard on June 9.
Daybell’s first felony is for the destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. His second is for the conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence. Both felonies carry a punishment of “up to five years imprisonment and/or up to a $10,000 fine.”
Much of Monday’s hearing documented in exhausting detail the search for the children and discovery of their remains on Daybell’s property.
What were the dimensions of the pet cemetery? How many animals were found in it? Which direction was Daybell’s car facing? Could Daybell see the pond from the driveway?
The majority of the evidence presented in court was already known to the public.
However, new details surrounding the discovery of J.J. and Tylee’s bodies were revealed when Rexburg Police Detective Ray Hermosillo was called to the stand as the first witness.
Hermosillo described driving the two sets of human remains he assisted in recovering from Daybell’s backyard to the Ada County coroner’s office. The first body was wrapped in a black plastic trash bag wound with duct tape. A tuft of brown hair poked out from the top. The other was little more than burnt flesh and bones in a melted green bucket and a partially burned human skull.
The following day the medical examiner opened the black bag for the first time on his examination table. Hermosillo was there to witness it.
“And what did you observe?” Prosecuting Attorney Rob Wood asked Hermosillo in court as he stood on the witness stand.
“I observed a small child in red pajamas. Red pajama shirt, red pajama pants, black socks that had the word Sketchers in orange across the toes. I also observed a (light) blue blanket that had been placed on top of him,” Hermosillo said.
“Can you describe for the court what drew your attention?” Wood asked.
“The amount of duct tape that was covering the body,” Hermosillo replied.
Motioning with his hands the detective explained that the child’s feet and hands were bound. Over the head was a second plastic bag with more duct tape wound around the head’s circumference, as well as “several layers of duct tape” wrapped “tightly from his chin to his forehead area.”
Upon the medical examiner opening the bag over his head, Hermosillo saw “an additional piece of duct tape that was stretched from jawline to jawline across the mouth."
Hermosillo said over the last eight months, he has seen J.J. Vallow’s face hundreds of times in videos and photographs. At last, he was seeing him face-to-face.
“I recognized that to be the same little boy that was lying on the table,” Hermosillo said.
And, with Hermosillo’s words, gone were the hopes that the children didn’t suffer. J.J., it appears, was bound and gagged before his death.
New information was also learned about the initial welfare check on J.J. in November when Wood played police body camera footage from that day.
In the footage, Vallow opens the door and cheerily tells the responding officers exactly why J.J. wasn’t there and why she had been hiding from family members.
“He’s in Arizona, with one of my friends in Arizona. … One of my brothers is trying to kill me. … My other brother was in with my husband who was trying to kill me for my $2 million life insurance policy. … Since (Charles Vallow, Lori’s former husband) passed away, (Kay Woodcock, Chares Vallow’s sister and J.J.’s biological grandmother) has been trying to take (J.J.) away from me. … I don’t tell people the truth about where we are and what we’re doing because of those reasons. So I look like a suspect, but I am a good person, raised all my kids, I did everything that I’m supposed to do in life. … We moved up here in September and my daughter (goes) to BYU-I.”
Unbeknownst to the police, both Tylee and J.J. were dead and buried in Daybell’s backyard at the time of that interaction.
The second half of Monday’s proceedings consisted of examinations of witnesses and evidence surrounding the cellphone pings that led law enforcement to the bodies’ locations and the prosecutor playing approximately 20 minutes of a phone call between Vallow and friend Melanie Gibb in which they debated which of them had gone spiritually “dark.”
After the recording was played, the judge declared the court recessed for the day.
On Monday, the courthouse was closed to the public due to coronavirus restrictions. However, J.J.’s biological grandparents, Larry and Kay Woodcock, were notably in attendance. Witnesses included detectives who worked the case, Gibb and a Brigham Young University-Idaho employee who testified that Tylee had never attended school there.
Daybell is being investigated for more than just the children’s deaths. The suspicious death of Daybell’s first wife Tammy on Oct. 19, 2019, at the same Fremont property where the children’s remains were discovered, also remains under investigation. Daybell and Vallow are currently being investigated for murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy regarding the death of Tammy Daybell, according to an April letter from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office.
The Chandler, Arizona, Police Department is investigating Vallow for her potential involvement in her estranged fourth husband Charles Vallow’s death on July 11, 2019, following a reported family disturbance that also involved Vallow’s brother Alex Cox. Cox told police he shot Charles Vallow after Charles hit him in the head with a baseball bat. The incident was initially deemed self-defense but remains under investigation. Other than Lori Vallow, there are no surviving witnesses to Charles Vallow’s death.
Cox died from what was ruled natural causes on Dec. 12, 2019, in Gilbert, Arizona.
Daybell’s hearing resumed at 9:00 a.m. Aug. 4.