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The prosecutor in the case against Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell, the Idaho couple facing charges surrounding the 2019 death of her two children, discussed slapping them with conspiracy to commit murder charges, according to a clandestine recording of a conversation with her sister recently played in court.
"We are going to be filing conspiracy to commit murder charges against both Chad and Lori, and we're not shy about that," prosecutor Rob Wood told Summer Shiflet during an October meeting, according to local station KSL.
Wood went on to say that prosecutors believed they had evidence to file charges against Daybell, a religious author who has penned dozens of doomsday books that reportedly sold largely in Church of Latter-day Saints circles. However, he said the case against Vallow is “stronger.”
“It is a death penalty case,” Wood told Shiflet, according to the 18-minute recording played in court at a hearing to discuss a motion to remove him from the case in light of the revelation of the details of the conversation.
When Shiflet is heard asking on the recording whether prosecutors planned to ask for the death penalty, Wood responded, “we sure hope not.”
The remains of Vallow’s missing children, 16-year-old Tylee Ryan and 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow, were discovered in June buried on Daybell’s property. No one has been charged in the murder, but both Vallow and Daybell are facing other charges in connection with the grisly discovery.
Daybell was charged with two felony counts of conspiracy to commit destruction, alteration or concealment of evidence and felony conspiracy to conceal evidence charges. Vallow is also facing a felony conspiracy to conceal evidence charge in her case. The couple has been married for just over one year.
Daybell and Vallow’s attorneys, John Prior and Mark Means, accused Wood of prosecutorial misconduct in motions filed in late December. The motions, obtained by Oxygen.com, allege that Wood had “engaged in coercive, unduly influence, coaching and intimidating tactics to manipulate a material witness(es) in the case” during his conversation with Shiflet.
The audio recording of the conversation, surreptitiously recorded by Shiflet’s attorney Garrett Smith, was played during the court hearing Wednesday to consider the motions, according to The East Idaho News.
Wood met with Shiflet in Arizona in October, just before she was slated to speak with detectives about the case. Smith said in court that the meeting was meant to be an “introductory conversation,” but he became concerned when they delved deeper into the case and discussed possible punishment for Vallow.
“It set off a lot of buzzers in my mind,” Smith said, according to KSL. “I have been practicing for 27 years. I just, it was curious. I hadn’t seen anything like it.”
During the conversation, Wood also seemingly questioned the choice of Means to represent her sister in her defense.
“When she has competent counsel, I don’t know if you know this, her attorney has never handled a felony before,” he told Shiflet. “He has never, never gone on any meaningful criminal work at all. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s a nice guy, other than when he is lying about me, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
Wood went on to say that the prosecution’s goal will be to put together a case that made her attorneys realize that “it’s going to be better to talk.”
Their conversation also veerred into specifics of Tylee Ryan’s autopsy, with Wood telling her that the teen’s remains were currently at a “state-of-the-art” FBI crime lab.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of deceased bodies there that they are going through, so we don’t know really anymore yet,” he said of the teenager’s cause of death, according to the station. “We may never know due to the destruction of that body.”
During the recorded conversation, Wood also repeatedly made references to being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both the Daybell family and Gibb were or are currently members of the church, KUTV reported, but the outlet added that the couple had veered into some fringe beliefs.
“The other thing I'm going to tell you is your sister truly believes that everything she has done has been done in righteousness," Wood was heard saying. "I think she knows what she has done, but the context under which it was done — was this religious? I mean, just these ideas that are out there. I can say this because I am LDS."
Defense attorneys argued that the conversation was Wood’s attempt to manipulate Shiflet and any testimony she might deliver at trial. The prosecution argued that there was not enough evidence to disqualify Wood from the trial and that there was no coaching and no intimidation.
On Friday, Judge Steven Boyce ruled to deny the defense’s motion to remove the prosecutor, local station KTVB reports. He noted that it’s not yet clear if Shiflet will ever be called to testify at a trial.
If Shiflet were to take the stand, Boyce said he would order a pre-trial hearing — known as a “taint hearing” — to decide whether the conversation influenced what she might say on the stand. He also urged Wood to apologize to Means for the disparaging comments heard on the recording about the defense attorney.
In another development, the Gilbert Police Department confirmed on Monday that the investigation into the December 2019 death of Vallow’s brother, Alex Cox, has now officially been closed. police continued to investigate his death because of the circumstances around the case and Cox’s apparent connection to the disappearance of Vallow’s children.
Cox died at his home in Gilbert, Arizona after collapsing on the floor of the bathroom, according to a 50-page police report obtained by KSTU-TV.
He had married Vallow’s friend Zulema Pastenes just two weeks before his death and was discovered by Pastenes’ son, Joseph Lopez, who reported that Cox had “just passed out” on the bathroom floor surrounded by vomit and feces and was not breathing. According to the report, Pastenes later told police that Cox had been “suffering shortness of breath with the slightest of movements” in the days before he died.
Cox had reportedly gone to Mexico to pick up medications for himself and Pastenes before he died. Shortly before he was found on the bathroom floor, he had reportedly called a friend and asked the person to give him a blessing over the phone.
Cox was with Vallow and her two children at Yellowstone National Park on Sept. 8, 2019, which was the last day Ryan was seen alive. Cellphone data obtained by investigators also placed Cox at Vallow’s apartment from 2:42 a.m. to 3:37 a.m. on September 9, 2019, and at Daybell’s property — where Ryan’s remains were later discovered — later that morning, according to an affidavit in the case obtained by Oxygen.com.
Cellphone data also put him at the Daybell’s property on Sept. 23, shortly after JJ Vallow was last seen alive, according to the affidavit.
According to the investigation report released by Gilbert Police, an autopsy determined that Cox died from blood clots and heart failure. The autopsy also noted that “no suspicious compounds were discovered” in the lab tests.
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