An Idaho detective described watching a medical examiner cut layers and layers of duct tape from the pajama-clad body of 7-year-old Joshua "JJ" Vallow in disturbing testimony during the first day of Chad Daybell's preliminary hearing.
Prosecutor Rob Wood called Detective Ray Hermosillo of the Rexburg Police Department as his first witness to the stand, which was surrounded by Plexiglas amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Hermosillo spoke about how the remains of JJ and his 16-year-old sister, Tylee Ryan, were discovered on Chad's land in June, nine months after the children were last seen.
"[JJ's] head had a white plastic bag over the top of it," Hermosillo told the court. "There was duct tape that was tightly wrapped around from his chin to his forehead area. Several layers of duct tape, tightly wrapped ... [There was] an additional piece of duct tape that was stretched from jawline to jawline across the mouth."
"From hundreds of photographs and video I have seen over the last eight months, I recognized that to the be the same little boy that was laying on the table," Hermosillo said.
JJ's grandparents, Kay Vallow Woodcock and Larry Woodcock, were among the few to attend the hearing in person, and Larry wiped tears from his eyes as Hermosillo spoke. Larry and Kay sat several rows behind Chad, who appeared expressionless next to his attorney, John Prior.
Hermosillo also testified that investigators had discovered burnt remains in a green plastic bucket as well as a partial skull fragment in the Daybell's pet cemetery, which were later confirmed to be the remains of Tylee. Those remains had been severely damaged.
Chad has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence, as well as two felony charges of willfully destroying, concealing or altering evidence related to the children's remains. Chad has pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of wrongdoing. Prior has not responded to Inside Edition Digital's requests for comment.
Under Idaho law, a prosecutor must convince a judge during a preliminary hearing that there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that there is probable or sufficient cause to believe the defendant has committed the crime in order for the case to proceed. That means if Eddins determines there is sufficient evidence to move forward, Chad's case will be "bound over" to a district court. If Eddins determines there isn't sufficient evidence, he can dismiss the charges.
Chad, who wore a white shirt and blue tie and no mask, did not appear to show emotion when the camera panned to him during the proceedings. The hearing was live-streamed over Zoom due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases in Idaho. At the beginning of the hearing, Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins said he would allow Chad, Prior and Wood not to wear masks as long as they practiced social distancing in the courtroom to make it easier for them to communicate.
During his testimony, Hermosillo said that when he went to perform a welfare check on JJ at Lori's home on Nov. 26, 2019, he found Chad and Lori's brother, Alex Cox. Chad told the detective he didn't know Lori well, even though police knew Chad and Lori had wed two weeks before.
"I asked Mr. Daybell when is the last time he saw JJ, and he stated that he saw JJ in apartment 107 [Lori's apartment] in October," Hermosillo testified. "I asked Mr. Daybell for Lori Vallow's phone number and he stated he didn't have it ... I again found it suspicious because I knew that they were married two weeks prior to my contact with Mr. Daybell."
"I asked Mr. Daybell how he knew Lori Vallow, and he stated that he had only met her a couple of times through Alex Cox," Hermosillo added.
During cross examination, Chad's attorney questioned Hermosillo about why he hadn't recorded his conversation with Chad, calling into question the accuracy of the investigator's memory of what was said. Prior asked several questions about whether Hermosillo had recorded conversations with other witnesses as well.
Hermosillo also testified that Lori's brother claimed not to have her phone number, despite the fact that she and Alex had moved to the same Rexburg apartment complex from Arizona months before.
"I asked Alex if JJ was home. I informed Mr. Cox why I was there, to do a welfare check on JJ, so I asked him if he was there," Hermosillo said. "Initially, he didn't respond. He just looked at the defendant Daybell and didn't answer my question initially. I asked him again, and he stated that Joshua was with his grandma Kay in Louisiana. ... I told Mr. Cox it was unlikely because Kay was the one who originally called in the welfare check."
Detective David Stubbs of the Rexburg Police Department was also called as a witness Monday, and testified that he had worn a body camera to record a conversation he had with Lori on Nov. 26. The footage was shown in court Monday but only the audio was allowed to be broadcast.
In the footage, Lori tells officers that her brother, Alex, protects her, but that her other brother is trying to kill her for her $2 million life insurance policy and that she "doesn't want to be found."
Lori also tells police in the body cam footage that Tylee is attending Brigham Young University in Idaho and that Lori is planning to move back to Arizona so JJ can go back to school there because school in Idaho has been too tough. But investigators said the children had already been dead for months at this point. In the recording, Lori also criticizes her sister-in-law Kay, who shook her head as the footage was played in the courtroom Monday.
Investigators have previously stated that they located the children's remains on Chad's property using the GPS signals and location data from Alex's cellphone.
Alex died on Dec. 12. An Arizona medical examiner ruled that he died of natural causes, but Cox's death remains under investigation.
Lt. Ron Ball of the Rexburg Police Department was also called as a witness Monday. In an affidavit, Ball wrote that Lori believed JJ and Tylee had become "zombies" and that she and Chad were on a mission to "rid the world of 'zombies.'" The couple believed that while a zombie's "dark spirit" is inhabiting a person's body, "the person’s true spirit goes into 'limbo' and is stuck there until the host body is physically killed," their friend, Melanie Gibb, told investigators, adding that it was a belief Lori had learned from Chad.
Gibb is among the 48 witnesses Wood may call in his case against Lori, who has been charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence in Fremont County. She is also facing misdemeanor charges of resisting and obstructing an officer, solicitation of a crime and contempt in Madison County. She has pleaded not guilty and denies all allegations of wrongdoing. She is due to appear in court in Fremont County on Aug. 10 and Aug. 11.
Three FBI agents from the bureau's Salt Lake City division—Special Agent Benjamin Dean, Special Agent Steven Daniels and Agent Gary Lyu—have also been called to testify during Chad's preliminary hearing, according to court documents. A member of the Idaho State Police Forensic Services team, Rylene Nowlin, has also been subpoenaed.
Separately, Lori and Chad are currently under investigation by the Idaho Attorney General's office for "conspiracy, attempted murder and/or murder" in the death of Chad's first wife, Tammy, who died weeks before the couple married.
The Rexburg Police Department asks anyone with information regarding the case to contact the department at 1-208-359-3000.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.