Ep 12: Dancing with the Devil

Doug Lovell stood trial for his crime.

A jury had convicted him. A judge had sent him to prison. He’d behaved himself once there and served his time, or at least some of it. He’d convinced the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole he was a changed man, deserving of a second chance.

And so Doug Lovell re-entered society, backed up by people who loved him and believed in him. People who trusted him, even though he’d hurt many of them in the past.

Doug Lovell mug shot car theft
Douglas Lovell’s July, 1985 mugshot following his arrest on a warrant for car theft. Doug had been involved in the transfer of two vehicles stolen off of Salt Lake City car lots during 1984. Photo: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office

Doug did well on parole. He stayed out of trouble long enough to free himself of the onerous supervision of an overworked parole officer after about a year. He got a job and maybe, a few loved ones thought, he’d finally gone straight.

This was no clean break. In reality, Doug went right back to what he’d been doing before. Only now, his network of criminal associates was larger. He’d used his time in lock-up to make new connections.

It was 1983. Within a matter of months, Doug would see a woman he’d never met leaving a supper club. He would wait for that woman — Joyce Yost — to drive away in her car. Then, he would follow her home.

Joyce Yost’s sexual assault

Doug Lovell’s attack on Joyce Yost under cover of darkness on that April night in 1985 did not happen in isolation. It was an escalation, the latest in a long string of criminal acts. Though just 27 years old, he’d already spent more than half of his young life taking from others to satisfy his own wants.

But Doug didn’t just steal money or property from Joyce. He robbed her of her safety. He exhibited callous disregard for her wellbeing, for her humanity.

Joyce Yost (right) poses with her daughter Kim Salazar (second from right), niece Cathy Thoe (second from left) and sister Dorothy Dial (left). Photo: Joyce Yost family

Joyce was resilient, composed and courageous in her response. She made the difficult choice to report what Doug had done to her, enduring multiple interviews and a physical examination. She took to the witness stand at Doug Lovell’s preliminary hearing and spoke her truth.

Doug Lovell’s trial was coming. Joyce would have to testify again. She should’ve been protected. But the criminal justice system — comprised of judges, lawyers, police officers, jailers — repeatedly fumbled in dealing with Doug. It provided him chance after chance to leave custody, summon aide from his criminal associates and ultimately, to kill Joyce himself.

Douglas Lovell’s plan for freedom

With every second chance Doug Lovell was ever given in his life, he’d pressed his luck. He’d behaved when the heat was on, and went wild when nobody was watching.

“You have no feeling for the people that you’re hurting or watching get hurt. You just go dead inside.”

Doug Lovell

Doug Lovell began plotting a path to freedom upon returning to prison in January of 1986. He did not intend to serve out the 15-years-to-life sentence he’d earned for sexually assaulting Joyce Yost. Whether through a successful appeal or by once again convincing the parole board of his contrition, he would evade responsibility.

“I’m thankful for being here. I’m not thankful for the length of time that I’ve had to be here,” Doug told his ex-wife Rhonda Buttars in January of 1992.

Doug had not yet learned Rhonda had betrayed him. She’d confessed her role in the murder of Joyce Yost to South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter. He didn’t yet know she’d recorded his phone calls and twice worn a wire into the prison to gather evidence against him.

In that second wire recording, Doug had told Rhonda he would’ve destroyed many lives if he weren’t imprisoned. He’d described a “dysfunctional” state within himself.

“It’s robotic. You just, you’re able to just do it. You don’t feel anything. You don’t sense anything. You have no feeling for the people that you’re hurting or watching get hurt. You just go dead inside and you become really cold and just kind of a robotic state and you can function really fine. And I’ve been that way for quite a while,” Doug said.

Capital murder for killing Joyce Yost

The calculation changed for Doug Lovell once Terry Carpenter served him with a capital murder charge in May of 1992. He was no longer finagling for his freedom. Instead, he was fighting for his life. Conviction would likely carry a sentence of death.

Doug’s sole bargaining chip was a piece of information he alone possessed: the location of Joyce Yost’s body. He told his attorney he’d be able to find the spot even in a blinding snowstorm.

Doug agreed to a plea deal. He admitted to the murder and promised to lead police to Joyce’s remains. In exchange, they’d ask the judge to spare his life.

Yet when the time came to lead police to that spot, Doug seemed to struggle. Emotion overcame him. He portrayed a persona wracked with guilt, far from the robotic, “dead inside” state he’d described to Rhonda.

“I don’t know what happened to Joyce’s body,” Doug wrote in a letter to Utah 2nd District Judge Stanton Taylor, the man tasked with sentencing Doug for the crime of capital murder. “I know the place that I have taken the police time and time again is the place where I took this young ladies [sic] life and left her there. I can’t explain why she’s not there. It’s also very important to me along with the family to see her have a proper funeral, and layed [sic] to rest.”

The gravity of what Doug had done was not lost on Judge Taylor. He sentenced Doug to death.

Doug Lovell’s trial

Within a matter of days, Doug Lovell went to work attempting to undo that sentence. He asked to withdraw his guilty plea. Seventeen long years of court hearings and appeals followed.

In the summer of 2010, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Judge Taylor had made a critical error when advising Doug of his rights at the time he’d entered his guilty plea. The high court set the stage for Doug to stand trial.

Doug Lovell’s trial occurred in March of 2015, almost 30 years after his original rape of Joyce Yost. His court-appointed defense team didn’t bother arguing innocence. Their entire strategy revolved around saving Doug’s life.

Doug Lovell trial 2015
Douglas Anderson Lovell listens to his attorney, during proceedings in Judge Michael DiReda’s 2nd District Court in Ogden, Friday, March 27, 2015. Photo: Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune, court pool

Doug himself made this difficult. He refused to allow the jury the option of sentencing him to life without parole. Doug’s goal wasn’t just the preservation of his own life. It was the resumption of his previous life outside of prison. If he could convince just one of the 12 jurors to vote against a sentence of death, he would get that opportunity.

“The fact that in 1991 Doug is trying to cover up this murder doesn’t mean that he’s not on his way to becoming something better,” defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis said in closing arguments. “There’s a spark of humanity, there’s a spark of remorse, there’s a spark of a recognition that his behavior, his conduct hurt other people.”

Would that “spark” be enough to convince the jury to grant Doug Lovell yet one more in a long string of second chances?

Hear what what the jury decided in Doug Lovell’s trial in Cold episode 12: Dancing with the Devil

Episode credits
Research, writing and hosting: Dave Cawley
Audio production: Nina Earnest
Audio mixing: Trent Sell
Additional voices: Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell), Scott Mitchell (as Chuck Thompson), Amy Donaldson (as Becky Douglas)
Cold main score composition: Michael Bahnmiller
Cold main score mixing: Dan Blanck
KSL executive producers: Sheryl Worsley, Keira Farrimond
Workhouse Media executive producers: Paul Anderson, Nick Panella, Andrew Greenwood
Amazon Music team: Morgan Jones, Eliza Mills, Vanessa Rebbert, Shea Simpson
Episode transcript: https://thecoldpodcast.com/season-2-transcript/dancing-with-the-devil-full-transcript/
KSL companion story: https://ksltv.com/464454/actions-deprive-joyce-yost-family-of-time/
Talking Cold companion episode: https://thecoldpodcast.com/talking-cold#tc-episode-12