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‘Cold’: A Prison Informant Reported Douglas Lovell’s Death-Row Confessions To Investigators — Did Either Tell The Truth?

Jun 2, 2021, 11:00 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — A prison informant told Weber County investigators in 2006 that Douglas Lovell, the man who’d killed Joyce Yost in 1985 to prevent her from testifying in a sexual assault and kidnapping case, had lied to police about the location of Yost’s body.

“Doug told me every nook and cranny of everything,” Jared Dee Briggs told investigators in a video recording of his Dec. 15, 2006, interview with investigators.

Jared D. Briggs, a Utah State Prison inmate, faced a series of criminal cases involving theft and fraud in Utah in 2006. He briefly lived in the death row unit of the Utah State Prison, where he met Douglas Lovell. (Davis County Sheriff’s Office)

KSL’s investigative podcast series COLD obtained a copy of the video recorded at the Utah State Prison, which has not previously been made public.

Lovell had admitted in 1993 to killing Yost. As part of plea negotiations, he led South Ogden police to the place where he’d claimed to have killed and buried Yost along the Old Snowbasin Road. An intensive search of that area subsequently failed to turn up any sign of Yost’s remains.

Joyce Yost, pictured here with longtime boyfriend Floren “Nails” Nelson, disappeared on August 10, 1985. Douglas Lovell later admitted to killing Yost to prevent her from testifying against him in a rape case. Her body has never been located. (Joyce Yost family)

Yost’s body has still not been located. Briggs suggested in his interview that Lovell had moved Yost’s body to Causey Reservoir days or weeks after the murder to prevent it from being discovered and had intentionally misled police in 1993.

Causey Reservoir

Briggs said Lovell had claimed to have transported Yost’s body from the site along the Old Snowbasin Road by placing her body into a plastic bag, carrying that to his car and then driving to Causey. There, Lovell had allegedly tied a cinder block to the bag and scrambled down a steep slope to the water’s edge.

“He said he swam out aways … and he just let it go,” Briggs told the investigators.

Causey Reservoir’s north arm, looking toward Camp Kiesel and Wheatgrass Canyon. Jared Briggs told investigators Douglas Lovell had deposited the body of Joyce Yost into Causey’s north arm. (Dave Cawley/KSL Podcasts)

A search of Causey by divers in the spring of 2007 failed to locate any evidence that might corroborate the version of events offered by Briggs. However, police records show the dive team’s search of the reservoir was hampered by high water levels and cold temperatures.

Another search of Causey’s north arm occurred during September 2007, following a fatal drowning accident there. In that case, divers were assisted by a robotic submersible in their combing of the murky lakebed. They succeeded in recovering the body of the drowning victim but did not come across Yost’s body.

Other Mentions Of Causey

Briggs’ mention of Causey did correlate with existing bits of evidence in the case. An anonymous caller had told a Weber County dispatcher in 1987 that he’d located a woman’s body in the mountains behind the reservoir. Deputies repeatedly searched the area but did not find a body. They were also unable to identify the anonymous caller. Some investigators have speculated the body the caller reported locating could have been Yost’s.

Lovell’s ex-wife Rhonda Buttars had also told police in 1991 that on the morning following Yost’s murder, Lovell had told her he’d taken Yost’s body “up by Causey.” During a sentencing hearing in August 1993, Lovell said Buttars was mistaken and that he’d never been to Causey except once as a young Boy Scout.

Jared Briggs provided this hand-drawn map to Weber County Attorney’s Office investigators, claiming it showed where Douglas Lovell had hidden the body of Joyce Yost. The circle labeled “Lake” at the bottom is Pineview Reservoir. The second circle in the upper-right represents Causey Reservoir.

Briggs told the investigators Lovell had told him Buttars knew the precise location, contradicting what she’d told police.

“Doug has been holding that all the way through,” Briggs said. “But he says, ‘If I go to trial, I’m gonna tell them. I’m gonna tell them that she knows.’ He had told her where it was.”

Lovell had attempted during a 2005 court hearing to question Buttars about the extent of her involvement in the plot to kill Yost but Utah 2nd District Judge Michael Lyon blocked the effort, calling it “irrelevant.” Buttars had received legal immunity in 1992 in exchange for her cooperation in providing prosecutors with evidence against her ex-husband.

Uinta 1

At the time of his interview, Briggs was housed at the Utah State Prison’s death row cell block with Lovell. Briggs was not himself incarcerated under a sentence of death. He’d instead accepted a job upon arriving at the prison cleaning and providing meals to the inmates of Uinta 1, section 1: the prison’s death row facility.

The section comprised 12 cells. Utah had nine inmates housed under sentence of death in 2006, leaving three open cells. Briggs occupied one of those free cells, directly below Lovell.

Douglas Lovell stands outside Uinta 1, cell 104 at the Utah State Prison on Nov. 29, 2006. Jared Briggs was at that time housed in cell 104. (Utah Department of Corrections)

Briggs was then facing charges in three separate felony cases in Utah and also had cases pending in several other western states. The cases in Utah included accusations of theft and communications fraud, none of them involving violence.

“My word probably isn’t worth a whole lot on the outside,” Briggs told the investigators.

Briggs said he and Lovell had never been out of their cells at the same time. However, Lovell had offered him coffee one day by passing the cup into Briggs’ cell.

Jared Briggs Meets Doug Lovell

From there, Briggs said he and Lovell began conversing about hunting and their families during their free time. Briggs told the investigators their friendship had soon progressed to a point where Lovell volunteered the details of his rape of Joyce Yost and the subsequent murder.

“One day (Lovell) says ‘Hey, I want to tell you about my case so if that changes your opinion of me, I know that,’” Briggs said.

Briggs described having several long conversations with Lovell over the course of a few weeks, in which Lovell spelled out the details of Yost’s death.

“How I talk to Doug is I sat on a bucket in front of his cell and then when he talks to me he’s down at my cell doing the exact same thing,” Briggs said.

Briggs kept notes of these alleged conversations, which he provided to the investigators. In one of those notes, Briggs wrote Lovell had asked him to kill his ex-wife as payback for her cooperation with police.

“He told me she lives in Ogden and she is Ronda Butter (sic) and I can find her when I get out,” Briggs wrote.

Jared Briggs provided handwritten notes to Weber County Attorney’s Office investigators, recording what Douglas Lovell had reportedly told him about the murder of Joyce Yost.

Prison staff reviewed surveillance camera footage, which showed Briggs and Lovell had spent significant time sitting outside each other’s cells during November and December 2006. The surveillance cameras did not capture audio of what the men had discussed.

Lies & Letters

Briggs had sent letters to the Weber County Jail staff and to the FBI following his conversations with Lovell, offering information in the Joyce Yost case. Word had made its way to the Weber County Attorney’s Office, which sent the investigators to meet with Briggs. In the recording, Briggs asked the investigators if they could move him from the prison to a county jail, suggesting a potential ulterior motive for his providing information.

“If you guys know the case a little bit you’ll know that I’m telling you the truth,” Briggs said.

Briggs had lied to Lovell, however. He told the investigators he’d falsely claimed to have terminal cancer and had also provided Lovell with false names for his family members and friends.

Lovell had written letters to at least one of those false friends, which Briggs had intercepted and provided to the investigators. In the letter, Lovell had said Briggs was “a man with character, morals and very loyal.”

Douglas Lovell wrote letters to friends of Jared Briggs. This one, which Briggs intercepted and provided to investigators, did not mention Joyce Yost by name or explain what he’d done to end up on death row.

Briggs also gave the investigators a card he’d received from one of Lovell’s relatives, who’d written that Lovell had said “I don’t believe I’ve ever met a better man than Jared Briggs.”

Impeachment Of Jared Briggs

Lovell eventually succeeded in winning an appeal of his 1993 sentence and was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea. He stood trial for capital murder in March 2015 and the Weber County Attorney’s Office called Briggs as a witness.

Lovell’s defense team then attempted to undermine Briggs’ credibility by suggesting he’d learned the details of Lovell’s case by reading transcripts and other documents Lovell had kept for his appeal. They called another Utah death row inmate, Ralph Menzies, who testified he’d once seen Briggs take Lovell’s files into his cell overnight during a lockdown of Uinta 1.

Defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis also suggested Briggs’ knowledge of the case included outdated details, dating back to the period prior to Lovell’s 1993 guilty plea, suggesting he’d gleaned them from a pre-sentence report prepared by Utah Adult Probation and Parole following Lovell’s December 1985 conviction in the sexual assault case.

Briggs completed his prison sentence in Utah. The Idaho Department of Corrections webpage indicates Briggs was later convicted there on a charge of grand theft. He released from custody in February 2021.

Lovell did not respond to a request for an interview for COLD.

Listen To The Full Episode

Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost’s disappearance. Audio tapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.

You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.

Hear Joyce Yost’s voice for the first time in the COLD podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org.  You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

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‘Cold’: A Prison Informant Reported Douglas Lovell’s Death-Row Confessions To Investigators — Did Either Tell The Truth?