FBI agent testifies about finding human remains on Chad Daybell’s property

Posted at 4:16 PM, April 25, 2023 and last updated 6:37 PM, April 25, 2023

By: Christine Coates

BOISE, Idaho (KIVI) — Lori Vallow Daybell‘s younger sister took the stand to deliver emotional testimony on Tuesday as her murder trial continued in Idaho.

Lori is charged with the murders of her two young children, and conspiring to kill her husband’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell.

Court began on Tuesday with continued testimony from FBI Special Agent Nick Ballance, reiterating the number of phone calls between devices owned by Chad Daybell and Alex Cox in the area of the Daybell property. Ballance acknowledged that the devices could not be pinpointed, specifically, to the backyard area.

Courtroom sketch of Nick Ballance

FBI special agent Nick Ballance testified about electronic data retrieved in the trial of Lori Daybell Vallow. (4/24/23)

Ballance also analyzed and testified about contact and movements of devices believed to be owned by Cox, Chad and Lori on October 9, 2019, the day Tammy Daybell reported being shot at by a masked man in her driveway. He then moved on to October 18th of that year, the day before Tammy died, which showed contact between Lori, Chad and Cox throughout the day, and the tracking of Cox in the area close to midnight.

READ MORE: ID v. Lori Vallow Daybell: Daily Trial Updates

Ballance was not able to see the content of text messages sent during this time.

A few other points of contact during Tammy’s funeral, as well as calls made to Tylee’s phone in December, were discussed before the state finished questioning of Special Agent Ballance.

During cross-examination, the defense argued cell towers are not accurate. Ballance discussed Google GPS, but said that detectives were only able to track Cox. He also testified that providers did not keep records of messages at that time, with the exception of Verizon.

The state, in re-direct, asked if a person could dismantle the GPS tracking on a device, Ballance confirms a user is able to opt out of this function.

The next witness called by the state was Lori’s younger sister, Summer Shiflet. Shiflet testified she played an active role in the lives of the children, and that she and Lori were close. However, she did not know that the children were missing until December 2019.

Shiflet said she asked Lori about them in February 2020, and Lori told her that she knew where they were and they were okay. At that time, she had no reason not to believe her sister.

The state then shifted questioning to the time just after the discovery of the children’s remains. Shiflet said she felt lied to and her trust in her sister was damaged.

Sketch of Summer Shiflet

Summer Shiflet took the stand to testify against her sister, Lori Vallow Daybell. (Sketch by Lisa Cheney)

The prosecution played a call recorded between Lori and Shiflet in June 2020, after the remains of the children were found. On the call, Shiflet is crying, while Lori maintains she is unable to tell her about it. Shiflet sounds very emotional on the call and accuses Lori of lying. Shiflet says that no scripture says it is Godly to hurt a child.

With a raised voice, Shiflet questions Lori’s resolve to not say anything or care on the call. Lori maintains that no one knows how she feels or what she has been through. Shiflet, screaming, tells Lori there is nothing okay about killing children and begs her sister to consider she has been deceived by Chad. Shiflet, while sobbing, also laments that her sister had thrown her children away like garbage (due to the way the remains were found).

WATCH: Lori Vallow’s Sister Takes The Stand

The defense began cross-examination by apologizing to Shiflet for having to relive that conversation. They questioned the relationship between the sisters and the love that Lori had for her children.

The defense also asked about the religious beliefs that Lori had expressed to her sister, regarding past lives and the Light and Dark scale. Shiflet said she didn’t agree this was core to their religion and didn’t know what to think about the beliefs Lori was talking about.

Shiflet also testified that their brother, Alex Cox, had been in a car accident when he was 16 that seemed to have permanently impacted his decision-making ability, describing him as if he stayed a teenager.

Finally, Shiflet confirmed that she believed her sister was different after meeting Chad.

The prosecution asked for a re-direct and had Shiflet confirm that Lori had lied to her about the kids being safe.

The state then called retired Rexburg police detective Rick Schmitt to the stand. Schmitt had still been in the department when it began investigating the missing children in November 2019. He had also been assigned to go to Utah to interview family members of Chad and Tammy Daybell in December 2019.

RELATED: Electronic devices tracked to Daybell property in September 2019

Schmitt testified that he was able to obtain footage of Lori, Cox, JJ and Tylee at Yellowstone, dated September 8, 2019.

He also testified that he had obtained video of the surveillance at the storage facility, noting Lori, Chad and Cox visited it often. Specifically, the detective recalled a video from Oct. 2, 2019, where he observed Lori and Chad putting what looked like a spare tire and car seat in the unit. Schmitt said that it looked like a rear seat from a Jeep Wrangler.

He also observed Lori and Cox at the storage unit the following day, retrieving the tire and seat.

Schmitt also testified to seeing Cox dropping off and retrieving gun cases from the storage unit. The detective called local shooting ranges and found that Cox had visited them, allegedly using false names.

Schmitt also testified that he was present during a search of the Daybell property, and followed Chad as he fled the property.

Schmitt transported Chad to jail, then returned and joined the search of the fire pit area on the Daybell property where, after concrete was removed, police located human remains.

During cross-examination, the defense asked questions regarding the surveillance videos at the storage unit, then continued with questions regarding the shooting ranges. Schmitt confirmed he made an assumption that Cox was there and signed in using an alias, though he did not follow up to get visual confirmation that it was actually Cox.

The defense went on to clarify Schmitt’s testimony of the remains found near the firepit.

Next, the state called FBI Special Agent Steve Daniels, a member of the FBI Evidence Response Team, to the stand, who has special training in recovering human remains. Daniels was involved in developing the strategy to search the Daybell property on June 9, 2020, for human remains and other evidence.

courtroom sketch of steve daniels on the witness stand

FBI special agent Steve Daniels testified about the burial site investigators found on Chad Daybell’s property. (4/25/23)

Daniels testified that they used an eight-member team, took over 500 photographs, and concentrated on areas near the firepit, the ‘pet cemetery’, and the pond, clarifying that everything needed to be searched.

Daniels testified that they used laser scanners and a drone before they began digging on the property. A compilation of the photos and evidence was admitted as an exhibit to the court. In addition to different angles, maps and views, Daniels pointed to impressions and changes to the ground in the pet cemetery leading to the area being investigated.

Daniels continued to testify, describing the firepit and how the area was excavated. The group discovered bone fragments, organic material, and pieces of cloth from the firepit. Due to an overpowering smell of accelerant, soil samples were collected for further testing in a lab.

Investigators also found a jewelry chain and charm in the firepit.

When investigators were digging in the pet cemetery, they first found many animal remains. A photograph admitted into evidence was that of a larger bone, later determined to belong to Tylee. As digging with hand tools continued, investigators were overwhelmed by the distinctive smell of a decomposing body.

Special Agent Daniels testified that more bones were found and an anthropologist was brought in to assist in the excavation. Evidence photos in the courtroom show the bones as they were found and then placed on a tarp. Photographs also showed what were later confirmed as burnt remains, but had melted together.

A secondary burial site uncovered what investigators recognized as human parts, dismembered and melted together in a bucket, along with a human skull.

Investigators worked with the anthropologist to determine what they had, if it belonged to one or more bodies, and what additional excavation efforts were required.

Photographs of different areas of the property were then reviewed, of the garage, the shed, and a barn on the property, which were of interest to investigators as they were looking for tools that may have been used in the burials. Many photographs showed the tools that were seized by authorities to be processed.

Daniels then identified photos taken of the area near the pond where JJ’s remains were found. Again, photos indicated a change in ground cover, leading investigators to focus on specific areas for excavation. After some soil was removed, investigators found three large rocks.

After a brief sidebar, Judge Boyce adjourned court for the day. Court will resume with more testimony from Special Agent Daniels on Wednesday morning.

This story was originally published on April 25, 2023, by KIVI in Boise, an E.W. Scripps Company.