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Efforts continue to press Lovell to reveal Yost’s remains

By Tim Gurrister - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 18, 2022

Trent Nelson, The Salt Lake Tribune via pool

Douglas Lovell is pictured at an evidentiary hearing in Ogden on Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. A jury in 2015 sentenced Douglas Lovell to be executed for killing 39-year-old Joyce Yost in 1985. Lovell has been appealing the decision.

More than 37 years later, officials involved in the original prosecutions of death row’s Doug Lovell are still trying to force him to do the right thing — even if it means going to the Utah Legislature.

Lovell has twice now been sentenced to death for the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost. His case today still wends its way through the lengthy appeals process in capital cases.

This despite the fact he testified in detail, under oath, while on the stand in open court at his 1993 sentencing hearing to how he killed the 39-year-old Yost, of South Ogden.

The murder was to prevent her from testifying that he raped her. It didn’t work. He was serving a life sentence for her rape when he was charged with her homicide.

He’d pleaded guilty in Ogden’s 2nd District Court in 1992 to killing her in exchange for prosecutors foregoing the death penalty if he took authorities to where he claimed he’d buried Yost along Snowbasin Road in Ogden Valley. A lengthy Lovell-led search was a bust and he was sentenced to death by lethal injection. Yost’s remains have never been recovered.

Meanwhile the cadre of investigators and prosecutors who convicted Lovell continue searching for her and for ways to press Lovell to give her up.

“The family just wants her back,” said Rod Layton, a retired Weber County Sheriff’s Office detective who worked Yost’s murder. “They don’t care, they don’t expect to see him executed. They fully expect to get a call someday that he’s died of natural causes in prison. They just want her back.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind,” said Terry Carpenter, retired South Ogden police detective. “I believe he could drive us right to her.” Carpenter was the officer who actually served Lovell with the murder charges at the prison in 1992.

“That’s the wrinkle that’s been hard to take, that he won’t divulge where he buried her,” said Reed Richards, now retired, who headed the Weber County Attorney’s Office in prosecuting Lovell. “I can’t imagine he doesn’t know where she is.”

Which made a search in the summer of 2021 in and around the Lovell family’s former cabin in the Monte Cristo area of Ogden Valley doubly frustrating. During the 1990s, the family declined authorities’ request to search there for Yost’s remains, officials lacking enough evidence connected to the site for a search warrant.

But last year, Layton and others noticed the family had sold the cabin. So in the summer heat, they searched the area in an effort reminiscent of the 1993 search off Snowbasin Road, with backhoes, dogs, etc.

They found nothing. “We’re sitting up there in the heat, the bugs, putting water on the cadaver dogs and we’re thinking, ‘This sucks.’ It’s ridiculous when Doug knows exactly where she is.”

And last year, the group was appalled to discover that Lovell is no longer held on death row at the Utah State Prison — which involves 23-hour lockdown per day in maximum security, with virtually no privileges. He’d been moved into the general prison population — for more than a year.

“That’s our leverage,” Layton said, fuming. “That’s where we’re pulling our hair out.”

“I was not happy with that. It’s crazy to my mind,” Carpenter said. “It defeats the whole point of the criminal justice system.”

In general population, Lovell can take classes, get a job, socialize. The prison has numerous tennis courts.

“He loves being in general population,” where’s he’s seen as working the system to avoid execution, Layton said. “He’s a celebrity inmate.”

“Oh yeah, he likes general population,” Carpenter said. “He’s an important person inside the prison in the eyes of the people who live there.”

As Richards explains, the prison policy of letting prisoners out of maximum is an important management tool to reward an inmate’s good behavior. But extending it to the handful of inmates on death row, he said, was surprising.

The promise of getting out of max in return for giving up Yost’s location was an important enticement to keep trying with the reluctant Lovell, his nemesis squad says. Their leverage now taken away by state corrections policy, they continue to try to negotiate with corrections officials.

And this January, Richards said if they have to they will take the discussion to the Utah Legislature, seeking a law to keep death row inmates out of general population, or codify what is current policy but with an eye toward its use as a negotiating tool with Lovell.

Richards said he’s approached several legislators who are more than willing to carry such a bill.

Carpenter is hopeful, yet skeptical, that anything will work with Lovell. “That’s not in Doug’s field of vision,” he said. “If he was going to do the right thing, he would have by now.”

And it’s inconceivable, he said, that Lovell could have become confused as to where he buried someone in the wild. “Most people can tell you exactly where they got their first deer, or where they laid to rest their favorite pet. There’s no way it’s slipped his mind.”

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