Weber County officials pick new defense lawyer in Lovell death penalty case

Wednesday , September 27, 2017 - 12:00 AM

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to fix two incorrect references to the name of the lawyer who had been handling Douglas Lovell’s defense, Sam Newton. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error.

OGDEN — Weber County commissioners have contracted with a new attorney to defend Douglas Lovell in his death penalty case, agreeing to pay the lawyer up to $100,000, maybe more.

Commissioners selected Salt Lake City lawyer Colleen Coebergh on Tuesday to handle Lovell’s appeal in the high-profile, 32-year-old case following Sam Newton’s decision to step down stemming from a dispute over payment. The 2015 decision by a Weber County jury to sentence Lovell to death by lethal injection is at the heart of the appeal.

“This is a difficult case because it‘s a capital case and you have to be specially qualified under the rules of criminal procedure and the rules of appellate procedure,” said Bryan Baron, deputy county attorney in the Civil Division of the Weber County Attorney’s Office.

Adding to the difficulty is Newton’s departure — amid his charges that Weber County wasn’t adequately reimbursing him — in the middle of Lovell’s appeal. The county paid Newton $75,000 through the end of 2016, according to Baron, and had approved up to $15,000 more in reimbursement earlier this year for his services.

“So the new attorney really has to hit the ground running,” Baron said. He expressed confidence in Coebergh’s abilities, noting her involvement in a Washington County death penalty case, among other things.

Coebergh, reached by phone, declined comment.

Per the agreement Tuesday, Coebergh has a soft payment cap of $100,000, though she may seek and get more if she shows good reason. Lovell is indigent, thus the county is obliged to cover his defense costs, per state law.

A Weber County jury convicted Lovell of first-degree murder in 2015 in the 1985 death of Joyce Yost and subsequently sentenced him to death by lethal injection. He killed the South Ogden woman, whose body has never been found, to prevent her from testifying against him in a rape case, though he was still convicted in that matter.

RELATED: Jury convicts Lovell in 1985 Joyce Yost murder

In response to his appeal, the Utah Supreme Court has remanded Lovell’s case back to 2nd District Court in Ogden for an evidentiary hearing, according to Baron. At issue is the imposition of the death penalty. Lovell contends that his lawyers at the time didn’t put up a sufficient defense during the sentencing phase, according to Baron.

Evidentiary hearings had been set to go from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3, but the dispute over Newton’s payment put the process on hold. Following Tuesday’s action, a telephone conference is set for Nov. 2, according to online court records.

Baron said Newton, based in Kalispell, Montana, cited health reasons in his decision to step down as Lovell’s representative, though money figured big.

“It was all money related,” Baron said. “He said lack of funding was causing stress in his life and it was causing him to have heart issues.”

County officials had set a soft cap of $75,000 in paying Newton, giving him leeway to seek more if he could provide good reason. The county paid the $75,000, but then discord emerged over Newton’s request dating to last March for additional funds, precipitating his departure from the case.

Lovell, now 59, is being held at the Utah State Prison in Uinta, according to online Utah Department of Corrections records.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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