Prosecutors fight defense claim of judge bias in Lovell case

Apr 26 2012 - 8:54pm

OGDEN -- Prosecutors have filed an answer to rebut a defense bid to remove Judge Michael Lyon from the Doug Lovell death penalty case for alleged bias.

Lovell's public defenders claim some statements by Lyon suggest the judge wants Lovell executed.

Lyon has forwarded the defense recusal motion to senior Ogden 2nd District Judge W. Brent West for his review. A hearing date has yet to be set.

Lovell is accused in a 27-year-old murder for which he's already been sentenced to death once. He testified at his 1993 sentencing hearing as to how and why he killed Joyce Yost of South Ogden in 1985.

Statements in the media by family members of Yost favoring Lovell's execution allegedly impacted Judge Lyon's comments at a 2006 hearing about wanting "closure" for the victims in the Lovell case, the defense argues.

But Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward responds that the defense doesn't even demonstrate whether Lyon is aware of the family's statements, noting the judge has refused to read several letters to him from the family.

The judge's statement regarding closure "in no way casts even a colorable question on his impartiality because it did not manifest his personal bias ...

"Judge Lyon did not indicate what outcome he personally desired or what his personal wishes were," Heward said.

The comments the defense claims show bias actually support Lyon's decision at the 2006 hearing against Lovell retestifying on some past detail in the case, the motion reads, allowed in rules of evidence permitting a judge to exclude evidence when it is "substantially outweighed considerations of undue delay, waste of time or needless presentation of cumulative evidence."

In the recusal motion public defenders Mike Bouwhuis and Sean Young argue, "In a case where the stakes are at their highest, the risk is too great to have the proceedings presided over by a judge who appears to want what the victims want: Lovell dead."

When the judge says, "There has to be some closure for the victims in this case," the defense argues that such concern for victims "reveals not only a level of frustration on the judge's part, but also a desire to bring about the victim's family's wishes."

Lovell, 54, got off death row in July 2010 after almost 17 years there when the Utah Supreme Court ruled he could withdraw his guilty plea to Yost's murder, citing technical errors when the plea was entered in 1993.

He remains in prison for Yost's rape the same year as her murder, committed to keep her from testifying at trial about the rape. Lovell is serving a term of 15 years to life for the rape, convicted at trial despite her disappearance.

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