(CN) — A preliminary hearing got underway Monday in the case of a man accused of conspiring to destroy evidence after the remains of his wife’s children were found on his property following a cross-country manhunt.
In an eight-hour hearing in Fremont County, Idaho, complete with grisly witness testimony and police body cam footage, Chad Daybell appeared Monday in front of Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins in his first preliminary hearing since being charged with two felonies.
Authorities charged Daybell after the remains of wife Lori Vallow’s missing children Joshua “JJ” Vallow, age 7, and Tylee Ryan, age 16 were found this summer on his Idaho property. Daybell was represented during Monday’s proceedings by attorney John Prior.
Only a handful of people attended the hearing, including JJ’s grandparents Kay and Larry Woodcock, because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
After both the prosecution and the defense agreed to dispense with opening remarks, the bulk of Monday morning’s proceedings was spent on witness testimony from Rexburg Police Detective Ray Hermosillo, a law enforcement officer with over 19 years’ experience who was a key investigator into the disappearance of JJ and Tylee since this past November.
Hermosillo testified his involvement started when he was asked to recover a Jeep that was in Vallow’s possession and to conduct a welfare check on JJ. Hermosillo said that when he arrived at Vallow’s residence Alex Cox, Vallow’s brother, and Daybell were home but Vallow and JJ were not. After Daybell told Hermosillo he hadn’t seen JJ in the apartment since October, police obtained a search warrant for a handful of apartments rented by Vallow and her brother as well as a storage unit in an effort to locate JJ. While the search yielded some signs of JJ having lived there — such as a prescription bottle and a briefcase with JJ’s name inscribed on them — police were still not able to locate him.
The search for JJ later became a search for Tylee as well, since she had not been seen since September. Hermosillo and police eventually served an order to Vallow — who had since fled for Kauai, Hawaii, and married Daybell — with demands that she produce the children to Rexburg, Idaho, officials within five days. A warrant Vallow’s arrest followed in February when she failed to comply with the order.
On the stand Monday, Hermosillo then testified about the events of June 9, when law enforcement carried out a property search warrant for Daybell’s Idaho property. After an FBI evidence recovery team and canine units began to go over Daybell’s backyard, officials noticed a patch of grass near a pond seemed to be shorter and slightly off compared to the rest of the yard. Police dug up the patch of grass and, after removing a trio of large rocks and some underground wood paneling, found JJ’s remains wrapped in plastic and duct tape.
Hermosillo testified they found Tylee’s remains at another location near the property’s pet cemetery, burned and partially concealed under a bucket. That’s when Rexburg police took Daybell into custody.
After a lunch recess, the court resumed with the prosecution playing police body camera footage of Vallow before she left for Hawaii. The footage shows Vallow telling police JJ was with her friend Melanie Gibb in Arizona.
After the body cam footage, Gibb testified she had never had JJ with her and acknowledged lying to police when she told them that JJ had been with her.
The hearing wrapped up for the day with a phone recording between Gibb, Vallow and Daybell. In the call, Gibb asked Vallow why Vallow told police JJ was with Gibb when he wasn’t. Vallow told Gibb that it’s a matter of “people being after her” while Daybell said that if they told Gibb where JJ was it would “put her in a bad position.”
After further pressure from Gibb over where JJ was, Vallow said, “I know exactly where he is. He’s perfectly fine and safe.” The call ended abruptly shortly thereafter.
The preliminary hearing resumes Tuesday morning.