OGDEN — Though the case is over 30 years in the making, a prominent Weber County death penalty case will take over an Ogden courtroom once again starting Monday.
The court hearings will take up much of August in the case of Douglas Lovell, now 61, as a slew of attorneys will aim to see whether or not Lovell received ineffective assistance of counsel during his 2015 jury trial.
The trial ultimately led to Lovell’s second conviction of aggravated murder, who 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 tried to solicit two other people to kill Yost before deciding to carry out the deed himself.
In 1993, Lovell pleaded guilty as part of an agreement with the state, with one stipulation being that Lovell had to show authorities were Yost’s body was hidden. However, her body was not located, and Lovell was sentenced to death by lethal injection. To this day, Yost’s body has never been found.
The death sentence prompted Lovell to attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, which at the time, the Ogden district court did not allow. In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that Lovell could withdraw his plea, finding that the court failed to properly inform Lovell of his right to a trial.
That ruling lead to his 2015 jury trial, where he was once again convicted and sentenced to death. In 2017, the Utah Supreme Court again remanded the case back to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to determine whether Lovell’s attorneys appropriately did their jobs during the 2015 trial, which is the current matter at hand.
On Monday, a series of court dates called 23B hearings will begin, which aim to determine whether or not Lovell received ineffective assistance of counsel during his 2015 jury trial.
Among the main accusations at the center of the hearings is that one of Lovell’s former attorneys, Sean Young, failed to properly prepare Lovell’s former religious leaders for the 2015 trial. In October 2018, Young had his license to practice law in Utah suspended for three years after it was found that he mishandled a number of cases, including Lovell’s 2015 trial.
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.
“The witnesses that Mr. Young failed to contact had compelling evidence to present to the jury on Mr. Lovell’s behalf, but they were never called to testify as a witness,” according to an amended complaint against Young filed in May 2018.
More recently, another question that has arisen is whether or not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meddled in any way during the 2015 trial.
A former prison bishop, Dr. John “Jack” Newton, told an Ogden courtroom during a July 5 hearing that it was recommended to him by those above him in the church that it would be better if he did not testify in the 2015 trial.
The former bishop was one of three who worked with Lovell at the Utah State Prison who were called to testify for the July hearing in Ogden.
Newton said that a letter was sent to his stake president from above him somewhere in the church’s chain of leadership. 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 went on to testify during the 2015 trial.
Lovell’s 23B hearings will begin Monday and will take place on every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday until Aug. 27. Judge Michael DiReda will oversee the hearings, which will take place at Ogden’s 2nd District Court.