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Latter-day Saint church denies interfering with death row inmate's case

Posted at 11:15 AM, Dec 26, 2020

OGDEN, Utah — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denies interfering with a death row inmate's case by instructing ecclesiastical leaders not to testify in his trial.

In a recent court filing obtained by FOX 13, attorneys for the faith said it has no legal interest in whether Doug Lovell is granted a new trial. However, it denied interfering with his bid for a new trial.

"While in prison, Lovell met with several ecclesiastical leaders for the Church. Lovell planned to call his former ecclesiastical leaders to testify as mitigation witnesses at his trial. Kirton McConkie attorneys met with the ecclesiastical leaders to give them legal advice related to testifying at Lovell’s trial. The attorneys gave the former ecclesiastical leaders general procedural guidance about giving testimony, advised the leaders that they did not have authority to speak for the Church, and, because the Church did not want to be viewed as interceding in the case, discouraged the leaders from volunteering to testify if they were not subpoenaed," attorney David Jordan wrote. "The attorneys did not tell the former leaders that their Church membership would be in jeopardy if they testified, did not ask or direct the former leaders to testify in a particular way, and did not tell the leaders they could not testify."

Lovell is on death row for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of Joyce Yost. He was accused of killing her to prevent her from testifying against him for kidnapping and raping her. Yost's body has never been found.

Lovell pleaded guilty the day his original trial was supposed to begin, promising to lead police to her body in Ogden Canyon. When Yost's remains were not found, Lovell was sentenced to die. His conviction was overturned in 2011 when the Utah Supreme Court ruled he hadn't been properly advised of his trial rights. In 2015, he was convicted and sentenced to die again.

Lovell's latest efforts for a new trial have included claims his original attorneys gave ineffective counsel and accusations the Church interfered with his attempts to call former prison bishops as character witnesses.

In the court filing, attorneys for the Church sought to extricate them from the criminal case. Jordan acknowledged in the filing that they sought to limit the number of ecclesiastical leaders who could testify and warned they sought to quash subpoenas. None of that is unlawful, Jordan wrote.

"It is well understood that organizations can limit who has authority to speak for and bind the organization. For example, an organization may delegate authority to a limited number of individuals to speak on the organization’s behalf or enter into contracts for the organization," he wrote. "The Church has delegated authority to bishops and stake presidents to perform specific duties related to the individuals over whom they preside. But that authority does not include speaking for the Church as a whole or declaring or interpreting Church doctrine or policy on behalf of the Church. And the authority delegated to bishops and stake presidents ends once they are released from their positions."

Second District Court Judge Michael DiReda has requested to hear from prosecutors and Lovell's defense attorneys before making a ruling by the end of January.