The exalted goddess and doomsday prophet: inside the cult-like dynamics of Lori Vallow and Chad Daybell

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Two different versions of Chad Daybell are being portrayed at the accused killer’s death penalty trial.

One is a religious leader in charge of his household and business, and the mastermind behind the murders of his wife and his lover’s children. The other is a submissive man who was helpless to the women around him.

Prosecutors say Daybell’s “desire for sex, money and power” led to killings of his first wife Tammy, 49, and his current wife Lori Vallow’s children, Tylee Ryan, 16, and JJ Vallow, seven.

But throughout the weeks-long trial currently underway in Boise, Idaho, Daybell’s defense attorney John Prior has attempted to paint his client as a man who was at the mercy of Vallow, who he described as a voracious and “very sexual” woman who lured him to do his bidding.

“This beautifully stunning woman named Lori Vallow comes up and she starts giving him a lot of attention,” Prior said of the couple’s first meeting at a religious convention in October 2019. “She pursued him. She encouraged him.”

The tragic and shocking case has horrified America for the last five years not only because of the brutality of the murders, but also the unanswered questions around the role their extreme beliefs played in what happened.

The pair believed they had been chosen for a religious mission to lead “the 144,000” cult followers – and that Daybell was a prophet and Vallow was a goddess.

Last year, Vallow was convicted in the three murders and sentenced to life in prison. Now with Daybell’s trial underway, and the defense wrapping up, the central question facing the jury is: who was in charge? And as a religious traditional couple, gender also has a powerful implication on their dynamics.

When the defense began on Monday, those watching the trial found the concept of Daybell being controlled by the women in his life a bit ironic.

Author Leah Sottile, who detailed the case so far in her book When the Moon Turns to Blood told The Independent that Prior’s strategy of deflecting blame to Vallow was “misogynistic” and an attempt to convince the jury that Daybell had been “overtaken by a Jezebel figure like Vallow — a woman of failed marriages, irresistible sexuality.”

“So here we have a strange dichotomy: a man from a very patriarchal faith saying the women around him controlled him,” Sottile said.

She highlighted a motion filed last year by Prior that claimed that Vallow “manipulated Chad through emotional and sexual control.” He was “less culpable” than his wife in the crimes he is accused of,” the motion read.

“I think many of us believed Daybell would lay all of the blame in this case at the feet of Lori,” she explained. “That was precisely the argument Prior made during his opening when he described her as a woman with a trail of failed marriages behind her, who was a ‘beautiful, vivacious woman. Very sexual woman.’”

However, Sottile said this portrait of control doesn’t square up with her understanding of the patriarchy at the heart of the Mormon faith.

Both Daybell and Vallow grew up Mormon, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to the church’s own website, a man is the “presiding authority in his family,” and that “being a father of a family gives you opportunities to learn to govern with love and patience, and with your wife to teach each of your children correct principles; to prepare them to become proper fathers and mothers. When you do this according to the pattern given us by the Lord, and you endure to the end, your family will be added upon eternally. A righteous family is an eternal unit.”

The couple met at a religious conference in October 2018 and Vallow became enamored with Daybell’s prophetic persona and discussions about the end of times, prosecutors say.

Family and friends said that’s when Vallow’s beliefs became more extreme, with testimony at her trial exposing how these beliefs grew increasingly fantastical and dangerous, invoking zombies, dark spirits and death.

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