OGDEN — A former attorney for a man on Utah’s death row told an Ogden courtroom Tuesday that attorneys for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seemed to attempt to block him from calling the inmate’s former prison bishops to testify during a 2015 trial.
The testimony was heard during the second of many hearings for Douglas Lovell, a 61-year-old man previously convicted on two separate occasions of killing South Ogden woman Joyce Yost in 1985.
The attorney who testified, Michael Bouwhuis, was the lead counsel for Lovell during his 2015 jury trial. He recalled a conversation he had before the trial with an attorney representing the Church, who asked him to reduce the number of church members set to testify on Lovell’s behalf from five people to either two or three, Bouwhuis said.
Attorneys for the Church reportedly suggested to Bouwhuis, a seasoned attorney with over 20 years of legal experience under he belt, that if he did not comply, they would file motions to quash any subpoenas that would be sent to potential witnesses connected in some official way with the church.
“They appeared to be trying to manhandle us, saying you can’t call these people,” Bouwhuis said.
Lovell’s current attorney, Colleen Coeburgh, questioned Bouwhuis about if he has had clients who have “suggested” to others not to testify in other cases, which Bouwhuis said he did. She then asked him if those clients had been convicted for “suggesting” someone not testify, to which he said that they were convicted.
These allegations are not new, as the question of whether or not the LDS Church meddled in some way has been a point of discussion in previous hearings regarding Lovell’s case.
In a July 29 motion, attorneys representing the Church called the allegations made by Lovell’s defense counsel and any connections to possible witness tampering were untrue.
“Lovell’s mischaracterizations and accusations are baseless and offensive,” wrote David Jordan, one of two attorneys representing the Church in the case.
Weeks before that motion was filed, one of Lovell’s former bishops, Dr. John “Jack” Newton, testified on July 5 that a letter was sent to his stake president from above him somewhere in the Church’s chain of leadership before the 2015 trial. The letter, he alleged, said that higher-ups in the Church suggested that it would be preferable if ecclesiastical leaders did not testify on behalf of those in their groups.
Newton also testified that he was contacted by Church lawyers and asked if he wanted legal representation in regards to the case, which Newton declined.
“Ultimately, I had to decide if I should agree to testify in the case of a member of my congregation or follow a suggestion from a higher ecclesiastical authority. And I chose to not be limited by what an ecclesiastical authority would say to me,” Newton said during the July 5 hearing.
Newton went on to testify during Lovell’s 2015 trial.
The actions of Lovell’s other attorney during the 2015 trial, Sean Young, is one of the other focuses for the series of 23B hearings. Young was assigned to contact 18 witnesses to testify at Lovell’s trial, and assured his co-counsel that he was doing his work, but said many of them were being uncooperative. According to complaints filed against Young, he only contacted two witnesses.
In October 2018, Young had his license to practice law in Utah suspended for three years after it was discovered that he mishandled a number of cases, including Lovell’s 2015 trial.
Lovell was present in court Tuesday and will be for the remainder of the 23B hearings for his case. The hearings, named after Rule 23B in the Utah Rules Of Appellate Procedure, will determine whether or not Lovell received ineffective assistance of counsel during his most recent jury trial, which took place in 2015. Lovell is one of eight men on Utah’s death row, and has twice been convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death, once in 1993 and again in 2015.
Lovell was first arrested in 1985 after the murder of South Ogden woman Joyce Yost. Lovell had previously been charged with raping Yost, and he killed her to prevent her from testifying in court, according to court documents.
Lovell’s hearings will continue Wednesday and will take place on every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday until Aug. 27.