Douglas Lovell seeks to reverse second death sentence in Joyce Yost murder
Jun 23, 2021, 12:15 AM | Updated: Aug 22, 2023, 1:16 pm
SALT LAKE CITY — The second season of KSL’s investigative podcast series COLD, Justice for Joyce, concludes this week with the release of the season’s 13th episode.
The episode details the efforts of various KSL staff to contact death row inmate Douglas Lovell and request an interview with him about his murder of Joyce Yost in 1985.
“Whenever I am in the news, I know it is very upsetting to the family and loved ones of Ms. Yost,” Lovell wrote in a Nov. 9, 2019 letter, refusing one such interview request. “I believe an interview with you will most [sic] get back to Ms. Yost’s family. I hope you will understand and appreciate my decision.”
KSL had made contact with Yost’s daughter Kim Salazar prior to reaching out to Lovell. In a follow-up letter, KSL informed Lovell that Yost’s family knew of and supported the interview request, in the hopes it might lead to the recovery of their mother’s remains.
Lovell did not respond to that follow-up letter.
“If he were trying to minimize our pain and suffering at this point, we wouldn’t still be on a 23B remand 35 years later,” Salazar said. “He’d be done. This thing would be done.”
History of the case
COLD’s second season has detailed the entire history of the Joyce Yost case, beginning on the night in April of 1985 when Lovell first saw Yost and followed her home from a club in Clearfield. Lovell had confronted Yost outside her South Ogden apartment, raped her, kidnapped her and then raped her again at his own home.
Yost managed to convince Lovell to release her by promising not to report what he’d done. She then reneged on that promise, providing a detailed account of the rape to Clearfield police detective William “Bill” Holthaus.
“[Lovell] was quite the cad,” Holthaus told COLD. “Separated from his wife, chasing women around. He just struck me as a guy who didn’t respect women much.”
Holthaus had arrested Lovell, but a series of miscues and miscommunications allowed Lovell to remain out of jail ahead of a trial. Then, 10 days before the scheduled trial, Yost disappeared.
Disappearance of Joyce Yost
South Ogden police suspected Lovell had killed Yost, but lacked any firm evidence linking him to her disappearance.
A Davis County jury convicted Lovell of kidnapping and sexual assault, even in Yost’s absence. He began serving a sentence of 15-years-to-life in January of 1986.
Lovell was still incarcerated in 1991 when his ex-wife Rhonda Buttars provided South Ogden Sgt. Terry Carpenter a detailed account of how her ex-husband had killed Yost to keep her from testifying.
Buttars twice wore a hidden audio recording device into the Utah State Prison at the request of police, capturing Lovell making incriminating statements about Yost’s murder.
“We got so much information from [Buttars] that we would never have gotten without her,” Carpenter said in an interview for COLD.
Doug Lovell’s two death sentences
Buttars received immunity from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation, which allowed Weber County prosecutors to charge Lovell with capital homicide in 1992. He pleaded guilty a year later and received a death sentence.
Lovell attempted to withdraw the guilty plea a short time later. That request became the subject of an appeal that languished for years. The Utah Supreme Court at last decided in 2010 that Lovell should be allowed to take back the plea due to a technical error made by the judge during a 1993 sentencing hearing.
The decision cleared the way for Lovell to stand trial, which he did in March of 2015. His defense team did not contest his guilt, instead attempting to convince the jury Lovell deserved a sentence of life with a chance of parole.
The defense used character witnesses to make the argument Lovell had reformed in the 30 years since he’d first assaulted Joyce Yost. The jury was not swayed and decided by unanimous vote that Lovell should receive the death penalty.
Frustration for Joyce Yost’s children
That second death sentence is now on appeal to the Utah Supreme Court. Lovell has alleged one of his court-appointed attorneys, Sean Young, acted deficiently during the 2015 trial.
Yost’s daughter expressed frustration that the appeals process continues to drag on more than 35 years after her murder.
“I think that we have a better chance of him dying of old age in there than we do of him dying by the hand of the state at this point,” Kim Salazar said.
Greg Roberts, Yost’s son, said Lovell has succeeded in drawing the focus off his mother and the brutal facts of her murder.
“I think Doug Lovell likes the limelight,” Roberts said. “This horrible perpetrator becomes the story and that’s difficult because she was so awesome and he took all that away.”
Justice for Joyce Yost?
If Lovell succeeds in winning an appeal of the 2015 death sentence, it could clear the way for yet another trial. William Holthaus, the detective who originally arrested Lovell following the rape in April of 1985, said he will be there to testify again if necessary.
“Some people aren’t even here that were involved in that case anymore. They’re gone,” Holthaus said. “I plan on staying.”
Holthaus said he’d be surprised if prosecutors again sought a death verdict in the case, if the high court overturns the the jury’s decision. But he also said he doesn’t believe Lovell will ever succeeded in getting out of prison.
“He’ll never get out and I think that’s punishment enough,” Holthaus said.
Listen to the full season
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).