Guilty: Jury convicts Doug Lovell in 1985 murder

Posted at 10:39 AM, Mar 18, 2015

OGDEN -- After deliberating for nearly 90 minutes, a jury handed down a guilty verdict against one-time death row inmate Doug Lovell.

It's the second guilty verdict for Lovell, whose original guilty plea was overturned by the Utah Supreme Court. Now, he faces the death penalty again -- and the possibility of the firing squad again.

On Wednesday, a jury of nine men and three women unanimously found Lovell guilty of aggravated murder in the 1985 death of Joyce Yost. Lovell showed no emotion as the verdict was read.

A prison mugshot of Doug Lovell, accused in the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost.

A prison mugshot of Doug Lovell, accused in the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost.

The jury began deliberations about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday after hearing closing statements from Weber County prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Prosecutors said Lovell confessed to killing Yost on separate occasions, and said he wanted to keep her from testifying against him. In his own closing statements, defense attorney Mike Bouwhuis acknowledged the jury was likely to convict him but asked them to keep an open mind during the sentencing phase.

"I would just ask you to be patient with us," Bouwhuis said.

Lovell was originally convicted in connection with Yost's murder, after she vanished from her South Ogden home in 1985. Yost had accused Lovell of kidnapping and raping her and was slated to testify against him when she vanished.

Court records from the time indicate Lovell attempted to persuade two men to kill Yost, but neither did. In a 1999 Supreme Court ruling on one of his appeals, Lovell was accused of breaking into Yost's apartment:

"Lovell, wearing a stocking on his head, broke into Ms. Yost's apartment through the unlocked kitchen window. He went to Ms. Yost's bed where she was asleep, put his hand over her mouth and held a knife over her. Ms. Yost started when she awoke and cut her hand on the knife. Her blood soaked the sheets and mattress.

Ms. Yost pleaded with Lovell for her life and offered to drop the sexual assault charges. Lovell told Ms. Yost he would not kill her and gave her some Valium.  Lovell then gathered up the blood-soaked sheets, turned over the mattress, and made the bed with fresh linens. He packed a suitcase to make the police believe Ms. Yost had left of her own accord. Lovell then drove Ms. Yost to a canyon outside of Ogden and strangled her.  Lovell covered Ms. Yost's body with leaves and left her on the mountainside."

The court ruling states that Lovell later went back and buried her. Yost has never been found.

Lovell was convicted of the kidnapping and sexual assault of Yost, whose testimony from prior hearings was used against him. He was ultimately charged with her murder in 1992, after police obtained a confession through Lovell's estranged wife.

The day his trial was to begin in 1993, Lovell pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and agreed to lead police to Yost's body. But after weeks of searching, her remains were never found. Lovell was then sentenced to death by a judge.

In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea, agreeing with Lovell that he was never properly informed about his right to a trial by jury. The court wrote:

"We hold that under the 'good cause' standard, a trial court’s failure to strictly comply with rule 11(e) is an error that requires reversal. Because the trial court failed to strictly comply with rule 11(e) by finding that Mr. Lovell was clearly and unequivocally informed of his right to the presumption of innocence and the right to a public trial by an impartial jury, we hold that there was good cause for Mr. Lovell to withdraw his plea. We therefore reverse the district court’s denial of Mr. Lovell’s motion to withdraw his plea, and remand to the district court for proceedings consistent with this opinion."

Read the ruling here:

On Friday, the sentencing phase of Lovell's trial will begin. Defense attorneys are expected to call witnesses to testify on his behalf, in an effort to spare him the death penalty. Under the laws for which he was originally charged, death by firing squad was an option. It is also an option under a new law passed by the Utah State Legislature this year.