ADA COUNTY, Idaho — Warning: This story contains graphic content that may be disturbing to some readers.
One juror cried. Others looked angry. Quiet sobs echoed through the courtroom and boxes of tissues made their way through the gallery.
Rexburg Police Det. Ray Hermosillo described the day he met with the Ada County medical examiner -- after driving across Idaho -- to be present for the autopsies of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan, whose bodies were found buried on Chad Daybell's property in Rexburg on June 9, 2020. The children were missing since September of 2019.
Hermosillo sat in front of a full courtroom on Tuesday, composed and poised, as he told the jury what he saw. As an officer for 22 years, he said he has seen many things before. But a case of this magnitude -- never.
Daybell and his wife Lori Vallow, or Lori Vallow Daybell, are both charged with the murders of the children, as well as the murder of Daybell's former wife, Tammy Daybell. The two are also charged with conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft in relation to the deaths. The opening statements in Vallow's trial began Monday.
Hermosillo told the jury that forensic crews marked "an area of concern" in Chad Daybell's backyard because the grass and dirt looked uneven, so they began digging. They did not get very far until Hermosillo said everyone smelled "a strong odor."
Hermosillo said, as photos of the burial site were shown, that he knew what the smell was -- a decomposing body.
He then pointed at autopsy photos of 7-year-old JJ Vallow with a red laser pointer.
Larry Woodcock, JJ Vallow's grandfather, doubled over in sobs with his head in his hands.
JJ Vallow is seen in the photos wearing red pajamas. His arms, covered in duct tape, were seen crossed over his torso. His head was wrapped completely in gray tape. When the medical examiner removed the tape, it revealed a white plastic bag wrapped around his head, Hermosillo says.
A baby blue children's blanket was also draped over his legs.
"I saw a little boy..." Hermosillo said. "...I was able to recognize that same little boy lying on the table to be JJ Vallow."
The last photo the jury saw during this part of testimony was of JJ Vallow's face on the autopsy table.
Lori Vallow, sitting with her defense team, did not look at the photos. Her head was slumped down to the side with her back to the gallery. Many people continued to sniffle, which cut the silence of the seemingly overwhelming photos on the big screen that towered over the witness stand.
Before the photos of JJ Vallow were shown, Hermosillo detailed discovering the remains of 16-year-old Tylee Ryan. The remains were found by a fire pit, further away from JJ Vallow's body, which was discovered under a tree.
Crews began digging in an area of the backyard before they told police they could not continue with the same excavation method as it was too risky to disturb potential evidence. That's when police got on their hands and knees and began digging, Hermosillo said.
"We had to take turns digging because the smell was so bad," he told the jury.
Police started to uncover charred remains in a melted green bucket and crews later found a partial skull and teeth. Photos of the remains on a black tarp were shown to the jury. Some grimaced.
The remains of Tylee Ryan were burned, discarded -- Hermosillo said the only way he could describe it was "globs" of flesh and bone.
"I'm sorry," he told the jury.
Lori Vallow later requested after a lunch break that she should be allowed to leave the trial for the day. She came into the courtroom visibly upset, with her arms crossed in a black cardigan.
Her attorney John Thomas told Fremont County Judge Steven Boyce that given the nature of her fragile mental health and the graphic evidence, she should be able to waive her right to be present.
Boyce overruled the motion -- “Her presence can and should be required to ensure her due process rights and a fair trial," he said.
Hermosillo says the investigation into Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell all began in 2019 when Brandon Boudreaux, the ex-husband of Vallow's niece, was nearly shot outside of his home in Arizona. Boudreaux testified to his attempted murder on Monday.
Arizona police called and advised the police in Idaho about a Jeep that may belong to someone who lived there. Boudreux recalled a Jeep with Texas plates, similar to one that Tylee Ryan owned as a gift from her father, Charles Vallow.
When Arizona police arrived in Rexburg, that was the first time that Hermosillo had heard of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan. Rexburg police were later told by Kay Woodcock, JJ Vallow's grandmother, that she hadn't heard from her grandson in a while and wanted a welfare check.
Hermosillo said they arrived at Lori Vallow's residence to see Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow's brother, Alex Cox. The detective said when he brought up JJ Vallow, Cox "had a blank look on his face" and looked at Daybell, which raised some red flags. That's when Cox told police that JJ Vallow was in Louisiana with his grandmother, and "did not have Lori's phone number."
"I assumed Alex was lying to me," Hermosillo said.
Hermosillo asked Daybell about the last time he saw JJ Vallow. He said Daybell replied that it was that October.
"I asked him how he knew her, he stated he hardly met her, hardly knew her, only met her a couple of times,” Hermosillo said. But, the couple were married two weeks prior on Nov. 5, 2019, in Hawaii. After much pushing, Daybell finally gave police Lori Vallow's number.
“I told the other detective there was something going on with JJ… The evasive answers, the lies. There was something going on," Hermosillo said on the stand. “...We weren't getting any cooperation from Chad Daybell or Alex Cox.”
Police finally located Lori at her home shortly after, where she told police her son was with a friend in Arizona. Police contacted her friend, Melanie Gibbs, and Gibbs confirmed JJ Vallow was not with her. Police returned with a search warrant on Nov. 27, 2019, breaking down Lori Vallow's door at her home in Rexburg.
When they walked in, nothing looked amiss -- besides the fact her closet was empty. It also looked like Alex Cox was living there, Hermosillo said.
"Everything looked like someone had lived there, but there were no clothes on the hangers," Hermosillo said on the stand. "That caught our attention."
Police later found a Jeep with Texas plates in Lori Vallow's garage -- which matched the description of the car Boudreaux said was involved in his attempted murder -- and a whole slew of guns, ammunition and silencers, evidence photos showed.
There were also evidence photos of a camouflage suit and what appeared to be a Halloween mask.
Lori Vallow was later ordered to produce her children in January of 2020, but was arrested when she could not tell them anything about JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan's whereabouts. Then, on June 9, 2020, police served Daybell with the warrant to search his property -- and the families of JJ Vallow and Tylee Ryan finally received answers as to what happened to them.
John Thomas, who began questioning Hermosillo in cross examination, started off by saying, "It's been a tough day."
Hermosillo nodded his head.
"It has been a tough day."
Thomas did not finish his cross examination of Hermosillo -- it will resume Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m.
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