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Vallow children examinations reveal brutal cause of death, sharp injuries

JJ Vallow's cause of death was asphyxiation. Tylee Ryan's cause of death was "homicide by unspecified means."

BOISE, Idaho — Content warning: This story contains graphic language that may be disturbing to some readers.

It took four hours for Ada County Chief Forensic Pathologist Garth Warren to examine the body of 7-year-old JJ Vallow on June 11, 2020.

For his sister, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan, it took almost a week.

The children's' bodies were found buried in shallow graves in the backyard of Chad Daybell, Lori Vallow's most recent husband, on June 9, 2020 in Rexburg.

The couple is charged in the murders of the children and Chad Daybell's former wife, Tammy Daybell, along with conspiracy to commit murder and grand theft. 

Ryan arrived at the Ada County morgue in three separate evidence bags. Warren said on the witness stand Wednesday that he usually has a whole body to work with, but Ryan was in pieces -- burned, charred and discarded. There was a skull, some organs -- like her heart, kidneys and lungs -- and some bone. But that was all.

After tedious work of examining flesh, bones and bone fragments covered in mud and dirt, the medical examiner came to his conclusion: Ryan was murdered. But Warren didn't know how. 

He ruled her death, "homicide by unspecified means."

JJ Vallow arrived in a body bag, his wrists and ankles duct taped, his mouth covered with duct tape from ear to ear and a plastic bag around his head, also sealed with duct tape. 

JJ Vallow had bright red bruising underneath his fingernails, Warren said, along with bruising on the upper arms and around the areas that were bound with tape. While the photos of Lori Vallow's son were shown, she kept her head down.

Most of this bruising occurred antemortem, which means before death, Warren said -- and he believed JJ Vallow somehow fought back. There was likely a struggle, he said.

Red scratches also lined the boy's left side of his neck.

"Was JJ trying to get the bag off his head? It could be scratch marks of him trying to get it off his head," Warren told the jury.

He decided JJ Vallow's cause of death was asphyxiation by a plastic bag and duct tape.

John Thomas, Lori Vallow's defense attorney, asked Warren why he didn't examine the boy's nasal cavity for plastics from the bag. Warren said that isn't typical considering the circumstances.

"Well I'm just basing this off of what I've seen in movies," Thomas said.

"That's scary," Warren said on the stand. "You're not breathing in plastic, you're breathing in air and that's why you die. There's no air."  

Ryan's remains were later cleaned and sent to Angi Christensen, a forensic anthropologist with the FBI in Quantico, Virginia. 

Christensen said she received more than 100 bone fragments of Tylee Ryan to analyze in order to conduct a more in-depth examination.

"All major parts of the skeleton were represented," Christensen said. "Like the cranium, the arms, legs and pelvic region."

Warren initially believed that Ryan was dismembered -- but Christensen said, oddly enough, the trauma on her bones weren't consistent with what she's seen in typical dismemberment cases.  

There were multiple "sharp traumas" inflicted on Ryan's pubic and pelvic region. Christensen said these came from some external force that was some sort of tool or instrument with a point.

Typically in dismemberment cases, the traumas are inflicted upon the joints, she told the jury.

She also observed pieces of Ryan's jawbone with teeth that seemed to be burned only on one side. This indicated to her one side of Ryan's face was more exposed to fire than the other side, she said. One of the bones were also "bent" at or around the time of death.  

The prosecution also previously mentioned Ryan's DNA was found on a pickaxe in Chad Daybell's shed.

However, there is no indication she was alive when her remains were burned, Warren said on the stand.

JJ Vallow's grandparents, Kay and Larry Woodcock, only arrived in the courtroom during the second half of the day. They told KTVB in a statement, "There are just some things we just can't... We can't un-see and can't un-hear."

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