Skip to main content

‘Doomsday Cult’ Mom Cites Roe v. Wade in Admittedly Weak Attempt to Force Grand Jury to Examine Death Penalty Factors Before Trial


Lori Vallow appeared in court on Aug. 16, 2022. (Image via the Law&Crime Network.)

Accused murderer and “doomsday cult” mom Lori Vallow Daybell on Tuesday argued that a grand jury should reexamine her case before the proceedings move forward toward a jury trial on the merits. The in-person arguments in an Idaho courtroom followed a series of three motions filed July 12 by Vallow’s defense team.  The prosecution rebutted those arguments in writing on Aug. 10.

Vallow pleaded not guilty in April after being restored to a state of legal competency on charges of murder and conspiracy. Her son Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and daughter Tylee Ryan, 16, disappeared from Rexburg, Idaho, on different days in September 2019. The children turned up dead in June 2020 on property belonging to Vallow’s husband, co-defendant Chad Daybell, 52.

Vallow and Daybell have been dubbed the “Doomsday Cult” couple due to their apparent apocalyptic beliefs. The case caught national attention in part because of a series of grim events surrounding the tragic deaths.

Vallow’s brother Alex Cox shot and killed her previous husband Charles Vallow in July 2019 when the family lived in Arizona. Vallow is now charged with conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in that case. Her brother died in December 2019 of what authorities called a blood clot.

Chad’s previous wife Tammy Daybell, 49, died in October 2019. Authorities say Cox tried to shoot Tammy mere days before her death. Chad Daybell, however, is the one charged with murdering Tammy.

Vallow Daybell’s defense filed the aforementioned three motions to contest the status of the proceedings.

The one of the three motions attempts to assert — in a blanket and passing fashion and without application of law to fact — myriad constitutional defenses. The request is little more than a five-page laundry list of constitutional clauses and U.S. Supreme Court cases. All are injected into the proceeding by Vallow’s defense “in lieu of citing every ground for each objection when it is made during these proceedings.”

“Defendant asserts all applicable grounds with regard to each and every motion, objection, exception, and request made in the trial of this case,” the document seeks permission to assert. “She does not waive any ground.”

Another of the three motions seeks to remand Vallow Daybell’s indictment “for further proceedings” before the grand jury.

“As it is currently worded, Counts 1 and 3 of the indictment will be confusing to the trial jury, and the crimes as currently stated do not meet the elements of a single crime, but in fact lumps two crimes into one allegation making it a general felony for possible punishment purposes at sentencing,” the defense motion argues.

It continues:

Defendant has been charged with Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Murder and Grand Theft by Deception in Counts 1 and 3 of the indictment; Count 1 as to Tylee Ryan, and Count 3 as to JJ Vallow. The Defendant sees each of these as two separate allegations and two separate acts which, if proven, caused two separate crimes. The allegations allege the single crime of Conspiracy to Commit First Degree Murder and Grand Theft by Deception. It references five separate statutes, those being Idaho Code §§ 18-1701, 18-4003(a), 18-2403(1), 18-2403(4)(a), and 18-2407(1)(b)(3). These statutes do not overlap in their elements. To lump First Degree Murder and Grand Theft by Deception into one charge is contrary to statutory construction, contrary to Idaho Criminal Rule 8(a), as well as being confusing to the jury to try to navigate the elements.

“It is unclear to the defendant as to what the grand jury is alleging,” the defense attorneys R. James Archibald and John Thomas later wrote.  “If the Defense cannot figure out the charges, it is highly unlikely that a trial jury would be able to either.”

Because grand jury proceedings are secret, the defense says it’s unclear if each of the charges were “voted on separately by the grand jury” in spite of the document’s wording.

The defense says prosecutors cannot simply amend the document without resubmitting it to the grand jury.

Prosecutors rebutted that assertion with separate filings dated Aug. 10.

“To the contrary, the law specifically allows for an allegation in a single count of a conspiracy to commit multiple crimes,” prosecutors wrote. “The Defendant has provided no legal authority for this novel request” to reconvene a grand jury.

A third motion filed July 12 and argued Tuesday asserts that Vallow Daybell is entitled to have a grand jury determine probable cause “on each alleged statutory aggravating factor” connected to the state’s request to seek the death penalty.

The state asserted on May 2 that the killings were “committed for remuneration,” were “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, manifesting exceptional depravity,” that the defendant “exhibited utter disregard for human life,” and that the defendant “has exhibited a propensity to commit murder which will probably constitute a continuing threat to society.”

The defense argues that a grand jury must examine those assertions before the case continues toward a potential death sentence.

“Because the statutory aggravating factors alleged by the prosecution are the functional equivalent of elements of the offense, and because they alone subject Mrs. Daybell to the potential punishment of death, she is entitled to a probable cause determination on each of them by the grand jury,” the defense wrote.  “A determination by the grand jury is necessary to ensure that the prosecution is not attempting to overcharge aggravators in this case.”

“It is highly questionable whether the ‘utter disregard for human life’ aggravator applies to Mrs Daybell giving her mental health issues,” the defense further suggested.

Prosecutors again rebutted the suggestion that a grand jury should examine the aggravating factors necessary for a death sentence.

“Defendant’s Motion is contrary to Idaho Statutes and Idaho case law,” wrote Fremont County Prosecuting Attorneys Lindsey A. Blake and Rob H. Wood. “[T]he Supreme Court of Idaho has clearly already decided this issue. The State is not required to put the aggravating factors before the grand jury.”

The state also said the defense request was “untimely” under state procedural rules.

During Tuesday’s oral arguments, attorneys for the alleged murderess complained that a magistrate determined probable cause for the aggravating factors.  The attorneys admitted that the court was “likely to deny” the request for a grand jury to review the factors but said it wanted to make a record on the issue nonetheless.

“There is controlling law on this issue,” the state responded orally, and it is not in Vallow’s favor.

The prosecution quoted state supreme court case law to make the point. One referenced case, State v. Abdullah, held that there is “no constitutional requirement that the state present evidence demonstrating probable cause for each aggravating circumstance to properly notify the defendant of its intent to seek the death penalty,” prosecutors said.

When faced with the reality that state supreme court case law was not on its side, the defense pointed to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to rubbish Roe v. Wade, the case that originally created a since-scuttled right to choose an abortion. The tortuous logic that followed dubiously attempted to link that case to the issue at hand involving criminal indictments. The defense suggested that we’ve entered something akin to an open season for attacks on high court precedents and that well-settled law can and should accordingly be cast aside.

Defense attorney Thomas made this argument:

We understand that Abdullah is the law of the land here in Idaho, but as the court is well aware, especially this year, where the Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. WadeRoe v. Wade was the law of the land for a number of years, and then through time and change they decided to overturn that. That was a landmark case. We would just like to, for peer purposes, put that on the record that we believe that it should be a probable cause standard as far as these aggravating factors go, and we would rely on that for peer purposes. We understand that the court is likely to deny our motion on that, but we would like that to be part of the record.

The defense also argued that the so-called “confusing” indictment was “fundamentally unfair” to the defendant.

“My analysis is, judge, the state’s wrong; the state needs to realize that, yeah, this needs to go back to the grand jury, and it needs to be conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to commit grand theft,” said the defense. “They are duty bound to look out for the procedural interests of the defendant, and what they’re arguing, in my opinion, is wrong.”

The defense reminded the judge that the job of prosecutors is to “seek justice, not just a win.”

The judge said he would take the arguments under advisement and issue a written decision at a later date.

Vallow at times smirked in court as the attorneys argued.

Watch Tuesday’s arguments here via the Law&Crime Channel:

Read the relevant filings below:

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime:

Aaron Keller holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. He is a former anchor and executive producer for the Law&Crime Network and is now deputy editor-in-chief for the Law&Crime website. DISCLAIMER:  This website is for general informational purposes only. You should not rely on it for legal advice. Reading this site or interacting with the author via this site does not create an attorney-client relationship. This website is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Speak to a competent lawyer in your jurisdiction for legal advice and representation relevant to your situation.