Dave Cawley: Doug Lovell sat under sentence of death at the Utah State Prison. His guilty plea to the murder of Joyce Yost — and his failure to lead police to her body — had resulted in the ultimate penalty. South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter couldn’t escape the thought though the whole mountain search during the summer of ’93 had been an act of misdirection on Doug’s part.
Terry Carpenter: Dave, we tried everything that we could to try to get him to be truthful with us about where she was and what he used and he definitely said he came back with a shovel the second time but still then he indicates that she was only a few inches under the ground.
Dave Cawley: Joyce’s daughter Kim Salazar and her husband Randy believed Doug had used Snowbasin as a ploy to enjoy a few days of relative freedom.
Randy Salazar: I don’t believe she was there, for one thing.
Dave Cawley: Doug hadn’t offered a good explanation for why Joyce’s body wasn’t where he’d claimed to have buried her. Which opened the door to speculation.
Terry Carpenter: The other thing that I’ve wondered in the back of my head is Doug was driving a cement truck. Could he have known that there was going to be a huge cement pour someplace and got Joyce tucked down into the foundation someplace and just covered her up with cement? I, I don’t know.
Randy Salazar: He drove a cement truck and uh, I think he knew where cement was being poured and uh, I think he put her there one day and the next day he, I mean he, poured cement there.
Dave Cawley: I’ve heard several variations on this theory: Joyce might be under a road bridge that now spans the Ogden River, which was under construction in ’85. Or maybe she’s under the foundation of a house near where police found her car. These theories run the gamut from impossible to improbable because remember, Doug had lost the cement truck job weeks before the murder. So he couldn’t have been driving one himself.
But there’s one version of this theory that carries at least an air of plausibility. Let me explain. In the days following Doug’s sentencing, Terry Carpenter received a tip from a woman who suggested Doug might’ve buried Joyce in concrete along Utah State Route 193. That’s the highway that runs along the southern edge of Hill Air Force Base. The road on which the cement plant where Doug worked still sits today.
The tip didn’t go anywhere at the time in ’93 and the woman who provided the tip is no longer alive, so I can’t go ask her about it. But I recently spoke to the man who gave Doug the job driving the cement truck. He told me about a place where all the drivers used to dump their excess cement back in the day, a spot along State Route 193.
It’s a place Doug would’ve known about and had access to, even after losing the job. What’s more, it’s a place midway between where he’d left Joyce’s car and where he’d burned her clothes. Where, if he’d left Joyce body, it would’ve subsequently been covered over by layer upon layer of hardened concrete.
Of course, for this theory to work, we’d have to believe everything Doug supposedly told Rhonda the morning after the murder was complete fabrication.
Terry Carpenter: He can look at you and lie to you with best of liars you’ve ever met.
Dave Cawley: Whether Joyce was — or still is — buried on the mountain near Snowbasin or entombed within tons of discarded ready-mix concrete, something else was about to be unearthed that would further cement Doug’s guilt.
This is Cold, season 2, episode 10: Buyers Remorse. From KSL Podcasts, I’m Dave Cawley. We’ll be right back.
Dave Cawley: The paperwork sentencing Doug to death wasn’t filed with the court until August 18, 1993, two weeks after the sentencing hearing. A week after that, on August 25th, Doug wrote a letter to Judge Stanton Taylor asking to withdraw his guilty plea.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): John talked me into going with you because he said he doubted that you would or could give me the death penalty. He was wrong.
Dave Cawley: “John” was defense attorney John Caine. Doug said he’d instructed John to file a motion withdrawing the guilty plea, but had received no response.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): I wanted all along to have a jury hear the penalty hearing and not you because I felt I had a much better chance with a jury to receive a life sentence.
Dave Cawley: On August 30th, John filed a formal appeal of the death verdict. He did so without consulting Doug. Communication between attorney and client had broken down, it seemed. So, during a hearing on September 20th, Judge Taylor allowed Doug to fire John. But he didn’t address Doug’s request to withdraw the plea. That ended up in limbo.
Meanwhile, Doug’s appeal of his death sentence went to the Utah Supreme Court. The appeal raised four arguments, three of them claiming ineffective counsel on the part of John Caine. The most substantial of those said John had had a conflict of interest due to his friendship with former Weber County Attorney Reed Richards.
Reed and John went way back. They’d taught college law classes together. They’d owned real estate together. They’d even worked side by side as partners in their own law firm before Reed split off to take the county attorney gig in the mid-‘80s.
Reed was still serving as the county attorney in ’92, when Terry Carpenter served Doug with the capital homicide charge.
Terry Carpenter (from May 14, 1992 police recording): This is all part of count one. It says basically the same information at the top of a capital felony, to whit, aggravated murder…
Dave Cawley: The Utah Supreme Court sent the appeal back to the trial court in January of ’95 on what’s known as a Rule 23B remand. This provision of the Utah Rules of Appellate Procedure allowed the higher court to have Judge Taylor to dig into the conflict of interest claim to see if it had any merit.
A few months later, Doug’s new lawyers succeeded in convincing Judge Taylor to recuse himself from the case. And so the matter ended up before a new judge: Michael Lyon. Two full years of hearings and depositions followed. They resulted in a much clearer record of the backstory behind the plea negotiations in Doug’s case, which you heard in the last episode. In March of ’97, Judge Lyon wrote up his findings and sent them back to the Utah Supreme Court.
Dave Cawley: These were stressful years for Kim and Randy Salazar.
Randy Salazar: Like, y’know, our friends would ask us to go out and Kim was just, she would not want to go out.
Dave Cawley: They both worked outside the home, raised their three children and did their best to keep up with a never-ending barrage of court dates. Kim kept close tabs on the case, making sure her mother’s interests were represented. The weight of that responsibility wore on her.
Kim Salazar: It changes how you are as a wife, as a mother, y’know it just does things to you. It changes who you are. It’s not right.
Dave Cawley: The desire to find her mother consumed Kim. She and her brother Greg Roberts figured Doug had little left to lose. And so they decided to approach Doug.
Greg Roberts: Just with the goal of finding the remains.
Dave Cawley: But how to do it? In the last episode, I told you about a letter Doug had written to the judge. Doug had said he hoped for an opportunity to speak with Joyce Yost’s family.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): It would be hard, but I think it would be good for them and me as well.
Dave Cawley: Kim and Greg decided to hold him to that. They went to the Utah State Prison for a face-to-face meeting with the man who’d killed their mother.
Kim Salazar: I didn’t believe you could sit three feet from me and look me square in the eye and see my pain and lie to me. But it’s totally possible when you’re Doug Lovell. It’s totally possible because he did it for over an hour.
Dave Cawley: Doug shed tears during this encounter. He talked of the almighty, as he had in his letter to the judge.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): Joyce has always been in my thoughts and prayers. I have never said a prayer that she wasn’t a part of, and at each end asking God and her for forgiveness.
Dave Cawley: But he provided no good explanation why he’d sexually assaulted Joyce.
Greg Roberets: I think Kim had some hopes that she was going to find some answers to why he did it. ‘Cause she asked him that. But I think she left there tortured and worse off for it.
Dave Cawley: The reason why he’d returned four months after the rape to take Joyce’s life was obvious.
Kim Salazar: That’s why he did everything, because he’d been in prison before. He didn’t want to go back.
Dave Cawley: And yet here he was, not only in prison but on death row.
Greg Robeerts: And I had to shake his hand through some, through the bars. And I just wish I’d have broken his arm. Y’know, that’s all I could think about from that day and, and I know that, it didn’t, it just didn’t come out, nothing positive came out of it.
Dave Cawley: It was just one more trauma piled atop all the others. Kim and her husband Randy had endured a great deal together. From the early days after Joyce’s disappearance…
Randy Salazar: And Kim was crying a lot and she was depressed, which she had every right to be.
Dave Cawley: …to the trial…
Kim Salazar: Randy said something to him and he just turned around and he said ‘she’s gone now, buddy, she’d gone.
Dave Cawley: …to those hot summer days of the mountain search.
Randy Salazar: So we go up by Snowbasin.
Dave Cawley: They discovered they’d grown apart over those many years. In February of ’98, Kim filed for divorce.
Randy Salazar: I don’t blame my divorce on this. Uh, y’know man, everyone has problems in their marriage and our problems just went a little further but, I mean, y’know what, it was some hard times. It was some real hard times.
Dave Cawley: A member of the Weber County CSI team received a call from South Ogden police on a Saturday in July of ’98. They needed her to respond to a vacant lot, midway between Joyce Yost’s old apartment and South Ogden police headquarters. A group of people working to clear that lot ahead of a planned development had, that morning, dug up a sawed-off shotgun.
The CSI tech went to the field and found the gun. The barrel — what was left of it — appeared badly rusted. The wooden forearm — the part you would pump to feed shells into the firing chamber — had started to decompose. She could see the wooden stock had also at some point been sawed off, effectively giving the weapon a pistol grip.
The gun had been buried in a small pit near a tree, tucked back into bushes out of sight of the road. The CSI tech looked around and also spotted 14 unfired shotgun shells. They were 12 gauge magnum loaded with double-ought buckshot, the type of shell one might use to take down a trophy buck or moose.
The CSI tech also found a glove. Moments later, one of the workers called her attention to a second glove nearby, the obvious mate of the one she’d just found. She photographed these items, gathered them up and took them to the crime lab.
The gun didn’t stay there long. The rust and deterioration had left it frozen, with a shell in the firing chamber unable to be ejected. The gun could still possibly fire, though it was anyone’s guess as to when or how.
South Ogden police retrieved the gun from the crime lab a week later. They’d pieced together its provenance.
Terry Carpenter: They called me and said ‘guess what? We found your shotgun.’
Dave Cawley: Terry Carpenter had retired from the South Ogden Police Department just months before this shotgun’s discovery, concluding a 20-year career with the city. But he knew which shotgun they meant.
Terry Carpenter: One of those guns was cut off and was gonna be a sawed-off shotgun…”
The Winchester, which Billy Jack had years earlier told Terry he’d buried after deciding he couldn’t kill Joyce Yost.
Dave Cawley: The Utah Supreme Court held oral arguments on Doug’s appeal a couple of months later, on September 1, 1998. A lawyer for the Utah Attorney General’s Office pointed out Doug hadn’t brought up his May ’93 letter seeking to fire his lawyer, John Caine, at his June change of plea hearing or his August sentencing.
Christine Durham (from September 1, 1998 Supreme Court recording): The state’s now arguing that Lovell backed off. He acquiesced, he changed his mind and decided ‘No, Caine’s fine. I’m going to go through with the deal that he’s negotiated for me.
Dave Cawley: The state lawyer said Doug had known what he was doing.
Christine Durham (from September 1, 1998 Supreme Court recording): How do you respond to Mr. Brunker’s point that this was a sophisticated and indeed historically somewhat manipulative defendant who was perfectly capable upon his next appearance before the court of reiterating uh, those points if he still had any commitment to them?
Dave Cawley: Doug’s lawyers argued Judge Taylor should have proactively asked about the letter and said failing to do so was enough to warrant a reversal of the conviction.
Richard Howe (from September 1, 1998 Supreme Court recording): We’ll take the case under advisement. We’ll be in recess for 10 minutes before we hear the next matter.
Dave Cawley: Carl Jacobson’s career at the Utah State Prison had continued to progress. He’d promoted from lieutenant to captain in the six years since he’d escorted Doug Lovell to maximum security in ’92. The promotion had placed Carl in command over Uinta One: death row. He supervised the staff who oversaw Doug.
Carl’s father died in December of ’98 and he took a week off to grieve, to comfort his mother and to attend to the funeral arrangements. He was surprised when he returned to work to find a card waiting in his office. He opened the envelope and found a message of sympathy from Doug Lovell. This wasn’t an off-the-shelf Hallmark card. It was hand-crafted.
Carl wasn’t sure what to think but the card bothered him. He’d had a hand in denying Doug’s request to attend his own mother’s funeral in ’91. As such, the card seemed to carry a degree of subtext.
Carl sat on it for a few days. He knew a bit about Doug’s crime, having read his file. But Carl hadn’t talked to Doug himself about the case for 10 years, since they’d both been in SSD — Doug as an inmate and Carl as a young corrections officer. Doug, at that time, had still been denying any knowledge of what’d happened to Joyce Yost.
Carl decided it was time they talk again. He told his staff to pull Doug out of his cell and place him in a conference room. He instructed them not to interrupt him for an hour. He intended to talk to Doug, man-to-man.
Carl started out describing the experience of shopping for his father’s casket. He talked about how, at the cemetery, he’d seen deer and rabbits and felt a tremendous sense of peace. Carl then told Doug Joyce’s family should have the same ability to visit her final resting place. Doug recited the story he’d told at his sentencing. Carl didn’t buy it. He said he believed Doug knew right where the body was. He believed Doug was being evasive, but couldn’t understand why. After all, Doug had already received his death sentence. What more harm could the truth now bring?
Dave Cawley: That, of course, depended on the outcome of Doug’s appeal. The Utah Supreme Court issued its decision in April of ’99. Associate Chief Justice Christine Durham authored the opinion. It dismissed the accusation John Caine had been compromised by a conflict of interest. Durham called the evidence in the case “overwhelmingly conclusive,” but said John Caine had still endeavored to secure the best possible plea deal. She noted Doug had himself torpedoed those efforts by confessing to the murder, but said even if he hadn’t, he couldn’t have won a lesser sentence.
The gravity of that sentence was only underscored when, in October of ’99, the Utah Department of Corrections executed a man named Joseph Mitchell Parsons by lethal injection.
Stacey Butler (from October 15, 1999 KSL TV archive): At the stroke of midnight, witnesses say Joseph Parsons drew a few short breaths. His fingers twitched then his mouth and hands turned blue.
Dave Cawley: Parsons had absconded from parole in Reno, Nevada in August of ’87. While on the run, he’d hitched a ride from a man named Richard Ernest near Barstow, California. Ernest had agreed to take Parsons as far as Denver, Colorado. They’d gone about a third of the way when Ernest stopped at a rest area in southern Utah to sleep. Parsons would later claim Ernest repeatedly touched his thigh in a sexual manner and he retaliated by pulling a knife and stabbing him to death.
Parsons dumped Ernest’s body along the freeway, then continued on using the dead man’s car, credit card and identity. A Utah Highway Patrol trooper caught up to him later that afternoon. Parsons had pleaded guilty to murder and opted to have a jury decide his sentence. The jury had chosen death.
Stacey Butler (from October 15, 1999 KSL TV archive): Parson’s last words were ‘Love to my family and friends and to Woody.’ Then witnesses say he shouted ‘The Rainbow Warrior rules!’
Dave Cawley: Woody was Parsons’ nickname for his prison friend, Doug Lovell. Prosecutors and prison staff were at first perplexed by his mention of a “rainbow warrior”…
Scott Burns (From October 15, 1999 KSL TV archive): I have no idea what it means, I don’t care what it means.
Dave Cawley: …thinking it was a boast over having killed Ernest, whom Parsons believed was homosexual. The truth, as reported in an Associated Press article days later, was much more pedestrian. Parsons was a fan of race car driver Jeff Gordon, whose colorful stock car had earned him the nickname Rainbow Warrior. Parsons and Doug Lovell, the article said, often bet on the outcome of Nascar races.
Judge Michael Lyon signed a new death warrant for Doug in the months that followed Parsons’ execution. Doug did not give up the fight. He obtained a new attorney and in October of ’01 filed a renewed motion to withdraw his guilty plea. The prosecutors immediately countered, asking Judge Lyon to dismiss the motion. The two sides argued back and forth until, in February of ’03, Judge Lyon made a decision.
He said Doug couldn’t withdraw his plea for a couple of reasons. First, he’d made the request too late. State law said a guilty plea had to be withdrawn within 30 days. Doug’s letter had come more than 60 days after he’d pleaded guilty.
Second, the judge said John Caine’s filing of the appeal and the Utah Supreme Court’s decision on it, had taken the matter out of his hands. He no longer had jurisdiction. Doug appealed. And so, his case returned to the Utah Supreme Court in September of ’04 — six years to the day after its last visit.
Christine Durham (from September 1, 2004 Supreme Court recording): Good morning. We’re here in the matter of the State of Utah versus, is it Lovell? Luhv-uhl or Luh-vhel? Lovell.
Dave Cawley: Doug had yet another round of new lawyers. They argued the 30-day clock to withdraw the guilty plea had actually started running on the date of Doug’s sentencing in August of ’93, not the day in June when he’d entered plea. They cited precedent. The Utah Supreme Court had decided in another case that the 30-day counter started running at the “final judgement of conviction.”
L. Clark Donaldson (from September 1, 2004 Supreme Court recording): I would just ask this court to remand for a hearing on the merits. It would give Mr. Lovell the opportunity to have these issues heard.
Dave Cawley: In May of ’05, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Doug’s original motion to withdraw his guilty plea was still pending. The high court ordered Judge Lyon to decide if Doug could, in fact, take back his plea.
Dave Cawley: There’s a place in the mountains east of Ogden called Sunridge Highlands. It a plateau just east of the Powder Mountain ski resort, a place where people park camper trailers in the summer or spend crisp autumn days secluded in their cabins. Sunridge Highlands is not open to the public. It’s a private mountain community and access is limited. Getting in requires a gate key.
Dorothy Dial’s son Jeff Wehus — Joyce’s nephew, though only about a year younger — visited Sunridge Highlands in 2004 with some relatives. While there, he spotted a for sale sign on one of the lots. And he decided to buy. Jeff called the number on the sign. A man named Russ answered. They negotiated the purchase. Jeff agreed to bring a certified check to the Russ’ house. When he did so, he realized the person from whom he’d agreed to buy the lot was Russell Lovell, Doug’s older brother.
It was a crazy coincidence. Jeff completed the purchase without revealing his connection to Joyce Yost. Then, he did some research and discovered Russell hadn’t owned the lot himself. I’ve checked the property records too and confirmed it’d belonged to Russ Lovell’s mother-in-law.
Jeff soon learned the cabin Doug’s father had built in ’79 was also in Sunridge Highlands, just a half-mile to the east of his new property. Jeff began to wonder if perhaps Joyce might be buried there. He wasn’t alone.
Bill Holthaus: That would be much more logical.
Dave Cawley: Bill Holthaus told me the searches for Joyce in ’93 left him convinced her remains were nowhere near Snowbasin.
Bill Holthaus: I was skeptical from the start that we were going to find anything up there because I have a personal belief that there’s another location for that. … But it would make sense to me that he would go to a familiar place. … And he was at that cabin a lot when he was younger.
Dave Cawley: I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes that the access road for Sunridge Highlands splits off from the same highway that one would take to access Causey Reservoir. And you might remember that’s the same area where Doug’s ex-wife Rhonda told police in ’91 that Doug had taken Joyce on the night of the murder.
Rhonda Buttars (from May 1, 1991 police recording): And they went up by Causey.
Dave Cawley: This statement has for years left Joyce’s children Kim Salazar and Greg Roberts pondering the possibilities.
Greg Roberts: I think everybody feels as though she’s like somewhere up near Causey in that part of the world.
Dave Cawley: To my knowledge, the area surrounding the Lovell family cabin has never been formally searched.
Bill Holthaus: They never pursued a warrant and the father would never let them go there.
Dave Cawley: Terry Carpenter told me police did discuss the idea with Doug’s dad, Monan, years ago.
Terry Carpenter: His dad swears up and down that he did not go up onto the property at south, whatever that property’s called. He says ‘he didn’t have my keys.’ He could have had those keys and made copies of them and then his dad has his own keys back and never know that Doug’s got his own keys.
Dave Cawley: Weber County records show the two-acre lot no longer belongs to Doug’s family, but it is still private property. Greg told me a few years back he received a call from a Sunridge property owner who offered to take him up for a look around.
Greg Roberts: I called Terry Carpenter and said ‘would you guys still be willing to do something like that?’ And he said ‘yeah, we would.’ And I’ve never really followed up on it.
Dave Cawley: It’s probably a long shot, in any case.
Bill Holthaus: Well, it’s so many years later though, I mean, you’d have to professionally do that with ground-penetrating radar now to even have a chance.
Dave Cawley: Jeff Wehus, for his part, told me he spent years wandering and wondering before he at last sold his lot at Sunridge Highlands. In all that time, he never found any sign that Joyce was there.
Dave Cawley: Doug Lovell’s son Cody continued to grow while his father’s appeals were working their way through the courts. He hadn’t seen his dad much during the first few years after his mom had turned state’s witness. Rhonda had stopped visiting her ex-husband, as you might imagine. But in July of ’97, Doug had retained an attorney named Russell Minas with the help of the ACLU and made a push for his parental rights.
Minas met Doug, expecting to find a man who was angry at the world. But he wasn’t. Minas would later say Doug was warm, engaging, intelligent and articulate. They became friends and together succeeded in convincing a judge to require Cody to visit Doug at the prison once a month.
I mention this not to pry into the privacy of Cody’s childhood, but because of what it tells us about Doug. Court records show Cody was escorted on those visits by someone he trusted: Terry Carpenter. The Joyce Yost investigation had more or less come to an end when Doug had received his death sentence. But Terry had remained close in the time since with Rhonda and her children.
Terry Carpenter: I don’t think you’ll ever put something like this to bed. Something that will always be there. You’ll always have it there.
Dave Cawley: A few years later, Rhonda sought out an oral surgeon for Cody, when it came time for him to have his wisdom teeth removed. She selected Joyce’s son, Greg Roberts.
Greg Roberts: She brought their son to me to get his wisdom teeth out. I was really blown away by that.
Dave Cawley: Greg’s dental practice in South Ogden was well-established by that point.
Greg Roberts: I’m quite sure she knew who I was. … But y’know I put him under anesthesia and she was right there and I thought, ‘She’s got a lot of trust.’
Dave Cawley: Neither of them acknowledged their shared past, what they’d each lost. Cody had lost a great deal as well. He’d never known his father outside of phone calls…
Cody Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Hi dad.
Doug Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Hi. What’re you doing?
Cody Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Playing. Watching Bart.
Doug Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): What?
Cody Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Watching Bart Simpson.
Doug Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Are you?
Cody Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Uh huh. When you going to bring me those presents?
Doug Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): Soon, Cody. Real soon, okay?
Cody Lovell (from May, 1991 phone recording): ‘Kay.
Dave Cawley: …and visits to the prison.
Doug Lovell (from June, 1991 phone recording): God Rhonda, I miss him so much.
Rhonda Buttars (from June, 1991 phone recording): I know.
Doug Lovell (from June, 1991 phone recording): I think about him constantly. Boy oh boy. I’d give anything to be with him, you know it?
Rhonda Buttars (from June, 1991 phone recording): Yep.
Doug Lovell (from June, 1991 phone recording): Some day, huh?
Rhonda Buttars (from June, 1991 phone recording): Uh huh.
Dave Cawley: “Some day” had never come. I should note I reached out to Cody and his sister Alisha requesting interviews for this podcast, but received no response. Utah court records do show when Cody turned 18, he had his last name Lovell legally changed.
Dave Cawley: Judge Michael Lyon held a hearing in November of 2005 to address the question sent back to him by the Utah Supreme Court: should Doug Lovell be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea? Doug, his father, Terry Carpenter and John Caine all testified. The most interesting part of this hearing though was who didn’t testify. Doug had pushed his attorneys to call Rhonda. He wanted to point out how John Caine had refused to ask her certain questions during the ’93 sentencing hearing.
Doug’s attorneys, James Retallick and Ryan Bushell, told the judge they were not keen on this strategy. They figured it would do more harm than good. Doug had insisted though, so they did try to put Rhonda on the stand. Judge Lyon refused to allow it. Doug sent a letter to his attorney a couple of weeks later.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): For you and Ryan to say that her testimony is irrelevant and possibly detrimental to my case is absolutely absurd. There is nothing Rhonda could say that would hurt my case anymore than what I have already admitted to.
Dave Cawley: He called Rhonda a willing participant in Joyce’s murder and rejected the claim she’d only gone along out of fear.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): Had John asked Rhonda the questions I wanted him to ask her back then, Judge Taylor would have seen Rhonda’s true and full involvement in everything and would never have said her involvement was peripheral. It could have been the very thing that tipped the scale in favor of not giving me the death penalty.
Dave Cawley: Doug took his complaint straight to the judge in another letter a couple of weeks later.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): Dear Honorable Judge Lyon, this letter is to inform you that I am requesting this Court to reconsider Rhonda Buttars having to testify.
Dave Cawley: Judge Lyon held a hearing on this request the following April. It didn’t go well for Doug. The judge called the issue “categorically irrelevant.”
That August, the prosecution and defense presented a fresh round of legal arguments in the fight over the guilty plea. Doug’s attorneys said the judge who had sentenced him in ’93, Stanton Taylor, had failed to strictly follow what’s known as Rule 11. The rule deals with what a judge is supposed to explain to a defendant who makes a guilty plea.
Judge Lyon once again denied Doug’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea on October 5, 2006. He shot down the Rule 11 complaint, saying the transcript showed Judge Taylor had adequately advised Doug of his rights.
However, Rule 11 had changed about a month before the ’93 sentencing hearing and Judge Lyon said Judge Taylor had used the outdated version. As a result, Taylor had failed to specifically mention the right to the presumption of innocence, the right to compel the attendance of defense witnesses and the right to a speedy jury trial. Doug’s defense team seized on this and filed a third appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.
Dave Cawley: A man named Jared Briggs arrived at the Utah State Prison in the fall of 2006. He started out, as most male inmates did, in Uinta 5. That was the prison’s R&O facility: registration and orientation. Due overcrowding, staff soon moved Jared to Uinta 3, which housed R&O overflow. What he saw there sickened him: mildew in the showers, blood on the walls. Jared went to work cleaning it, without being asked. The guards took notice and soon offered him a job over in Uinta 1. Death row.
Jared’s crimes were not the type to warrant living on death row. He’d been involved in theft and fraud. Although the job would mean living in the death row unit, he wouldn’t be subjected to the same sorts of restrictions as the other inmates there. And to his benefit, he would get out of R&O — in which his freedoms were few — much more quickly. Jared accepted the job and moved into Uinta 1, cell number 104.
He was surprised when, on his second day there, an older guy with a mustache came by his cell and offered him a cup of coffee.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): When he offered me the coffee I threw it away ‘cause I didn’t know these guys from Adam. I didn’t know if they was trying to kill me or, you know, I just don’t know. I didn’t eat anything they ever gave me.
Dave Cawley: That’s Jared’s voice, from an interview with investigators recorded at the prison. I’m going to warn you to take everything he says with heavy dose of skepticism. He himself explained why.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Y’know, my word probably isn’t worth a whole lot on the outside. I’m gonna be right honest with you. I, uh, I had a gift gave to me I guess from God and I could talk a nun out of her panties. And you know I used that.
Shane Minor (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): That’s a good one. I’ve gotta write that one down.
Dave Cawley: The second voice there belongs to Shane Minor, who was then working as an investigator for the Weber County Attorney’s Office.
Jared’s job required that he deliver food trays to the other cells. He soon learned that the man with the mustache lived directly above him, in cell 110. His name was Doug Lovell.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): He liked hunting and fishing and I liked hunting and fishing. So that’s where we first connected. His dad had a farm, my dad has a farm. So we started talking a little about that.
Dave Cawley: Soon, Jared was stopping by Doug’s cell on his own time. Doug reciprocated, coming down to talk to Jared during the few precious hours he spent outside of his cell.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): So what happens is, is Doug’s cuff port where we stick the trays is open. So how I talk to Doug is I sit 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.
Shane Minor (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Okay.
Dave Cawley: Something about this fast friendship made Jared uneasy. Whenever he talked about his family, he took care to not give too much away.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): I gave him a fake address for my parents and a fake name for my girl because I didn’t, prison’s a tough deal that tell everybody all your business and so he was telling me some stuff, y’know, ‘oh, my dad lives here, got a cabin here and dadadadada.’ I says, ‘well my family lives in Idaho, Rexburg area.’ Gave him a fake address and you know what I mean?
Dave Cawley: Jared told Doug about his health problems — he’d had cancer — but embellished the details and described it as terminal. This only seemed to further earn Doug’s trust.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): One day he says, ‘hey, I want to tell you about my case. I want, so if that changes your opinion of me, I know that.’
Dave Cawley: Jared put Doug off. He talked about his own cases instead, but Doug persisted.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): He come down to my cell and he says, ‘hey, tonight I want to tell you about my case,’
Dave Cawley: Jared said Doug proceeded to describe the events of 1985, starting with his rape of Joyce Yost. But the version Jared recounted here diverged from the one we’ve already heard from Joyce herself.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): He was going down a street and Joyce pulled up alongside of him at a stop light and he was looking over at her and she looked at him and, uh, kinda gave him the look, is what he called it, and he pulled in behind her and followed her to her house.
Dave Cawley: Jared had some of the details right, and others wrong. He knew the make and model of Doug’s car — a Mazda RX-7 — but said it was yellow instead of red. Jared said Doug claimed to have simply “snapped” when he grabbed Joyce and put her in his car. Here again, Jared made claims not supported by known facts. He said Doug had bound Joyce’s hands, something she never described. Yet, he knew exactly how many buttons Doug had torn from the front of Joyce’s dress.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): And then he looked at me and says, ‘hey,’ you know, ‘I hope you don’t treat me any different because of what I did.’
Dave Cawley: Jared said Doug had bailed out of jail on his father’s property bond, after convincing his family — and his wife, Rhonda — that he hadn’t raped anyone.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Him and Rhonda drove by and Joyce was out on the front lawn, mowing in a bikini. And, uh, Rhonda says to Doug, ‘hey, uh, if I got sexually assaulted, I wouldn’t be out on the front lawn with a bikini on mowing my lawn. I don’t think you did this.’ … So Doug went, they made this plan that Rhonda says, ‘you just kill her, you just get rid of her. Then we ain’t gonna have a trial, you ain’t gonna go to prison,’ you know?
Dave Cawley: If Jared’s words are an accurate representation of what Doug said — a big if — then it would seem Doug’s intention was to implicate Rhonda.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): He did tell me, he goes, ‘you know Rhonda’s a key witness.’ He says, ‘they don’t have anything but Rhonda.’ And uh, he says, ‘you know, if she was gone then I, I guarantee I’d get out.’
Dave Cawley: The conversation continued over the course of several days. Jared kept handwritten notes as Doug described Joyce’s murder. This was in line with what Doug himself had described from the witness stand during his sentencing 13 years earlier. So too was Jared’s depiction of Doug stripping the bloody bedsheets, flipping the mattress and driving Joyce’s car up Ogden Canyon to the Snowbasin Road.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): I’m not real familiar with the road but I’ve got a a map here of what he drew me, but—
Shane Minor (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): He drew you a map?
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Yeah.
Dave Cawley: Again, that other voice belongs to investigator Shane Minor.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): It’s pretty hard for me to tell you this, all this next part. Uh—
Shane Minor (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Just, just take your time. Just take your time.
Dave Cawley: Jared said Doug pulled off of the road next to a guard rail, where he again sexually assaulted Joyce. Afterward, Doug walked her up into a patch of trees.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): And when she got up there, he turned her towards him and says, uh, ‘you’re gonna pay for this.’ And, uh, he grabbed her around her mouth and nose and had hold of her and he said she just fainted, went to the ground.
Dave Cawley: Jared said Doug claimed to have walked back to her car, where he paused to wonder if Joyce might regain consciousness.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): So he turned around and went back and she was laying with her head on the ground and he grabbed her hair and pulled her head back with a knife went around her throat and he told me that he pretty near cut it all the way off, he said.
Dave Cawley: This was decidedly different from what Doug had testified to in ’93. Doug, Jared said, had visited his dad a couple of days after the murder.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): His dad was working on a lathe and his dad had, ah, one of those plastic things on his head for the shavings to hit, a guard, and him and Doug was talking and, uh, Monan said, uh, ‘Doug, how is your, uh, case going with, uh Joyce?’ And Doug said to him that uh, he goes, ‘she ain’t going showing up for trial.’ And his dad took that shield and lifted it up and looked at Doug and then just turned back and went to, went to uh, work. And Doug told me that, you know, he says, ‘I think my dad knew what I’d done but he never said anything to me.’
Dave Cawley: Jared said Doug had worried a hunter might find the body.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): And he kept telling Rhonda, ‘I’ve gotta go do something with that body.’ And she says, ‘Doug, the cops are following us.’ And he says, ‘well, I’m still gonna go do it.’ So he drove up to where Joyce is at and then he says he went to start digging and there was tree roots and it was just real hard. He dug a little bit and it was just too hard of diggin’.
Dave Cawley: Here’s where Jared’s tale really turned interesting. He said Doug had claimed to have put Joyce’s body in a plastic bag, placed the bag in his car and then driven to Causey Reservoir. There, at a spot along the reservoir’s north arm, he’d tied a cinder block to the bag.
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): And he went down and he said when he went off the edge of the road was so steep that he went right into the water and he went out as far as he could. He said he swam out a ways trying to, and he just let it go. And he come back and he had a hell of a time getting up the bank of the, up to the car.
Dave Cawley: If true — and again, this is a huge if — it would mean Joyce’s remains were, and still are, at the bottom of Causey.
Jared told the investigators Doug had wanted to write to his friends. But remember, Jared had given Doug phony names and addresses. He realized if Doug were to send a letter to one of those addresses, it would bounce back as undeliverable. Doug would discover Jared had lied. So, Jared had engineered a workaround. He told Doug to write the letter, but let him send it so the envelope would have his name on the return address. That way, the person receiving the letter wouldn’t be shocked to get mail from someone on death row. On November 20th of 2006, Doug typed out a two-page letter to “Stephanie,” a friend of Jared’s girlfriend.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): Hi Stephanie. How are you? I hope I have reached you in good health and spirits. I was happy to hear that it was okay to write you. Jared has mentioned your name in so many of our conversations and speaks highly of you.
Dave Cawley: Jared handed the typewritten letter to Shane Minor.
Shane Minor (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Do they have a typewriter down there?
Jared Briggs (from December 15, 2006 prison recording): Doug does. He’s the only one person in the prison system that has one. They authorized him one.
Dave Cawley: In the letter, Doug wrote about his life in prison: his tiny cell, his Walkman, his 13-inch color TV, his exercise regimen. He talked about his love of the outdoors, his family and his new pal.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): I’ve only known Jared for a short time and already consider him an extremely good friend. He’s a man with character, morals and very loyal. Unlike 99% of the people in here.
Dave Cawley: Perhaps most interesting was Doug’s description of his crimes. He acknowledged feeling “deeply ashamed” and “absolutely horrible” for his actions.
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): However, because of a decision by the Utah Supreme Court last year… it now looks as though my sentence will be overturned in the next 12-14 months. I can then work towards parole one day.
Dave Cawley: Doug didn’t mention Joyce Yost by name. He didn’t explain what he’d done to her. He made just that brief, vague admission of some unnamed transgression “many years ago.”
Richie Steadman (as Doug Lovell): And I can honestly tell you that what I did does not in any way represent the man I am today.
Dave Cawley: In the weeks that followed, Shane Minor worked to verify Jared’s information. He sent the maps which Doug had reportedly drawn to the crime lab for fingerprint analysis. He had prison staff pull their security tapes and confirmed that through November and early December, Doug and Jared had shared several talks. Some were as long as two hours.
Meantime, prosecutors from neighboring Colorado traveled to Utah to extradite Jared on another set of criminal charges. On his way out of the Utah State Prison, Jared asked a guard to pass on to the investigators that Doug had asked to do something. The Colorado case was taken care of and by the end of February, 2007, Jared was back in Utah. Shane met with him again to find out what this “ask” from Doug was all about.
According to Shane’s report, Jared said Doug had asked him to find Tom Peters and to do away with him. In exchange, Jared claimed Doug had promised to make him a part owner of his dad’s cabin. This, Jared said, had rattled him. To make matters worse, Doug had sent letters directly to Jared’s friends and family while he’d been away. Some of that mail had bounced back. Jared had been caught in the lie.
Dave Cawley: As the weather began to warm in April of ’07, Shane Minor reached out to the captain of the Utah Department of Public Safety’s dive team with a request: could they take their fancy boat, with its sonar, up to Causey?
Causey was a tough place to launch. There were no concrete ramps and the reservoir’s banks were steep. The big boat was a no-go. Shane next connected with Weber County Sheriff’s Lieutenant Jeff Malan, who was at that time head of search and rescue. They had their own dive team. The Weber County divers went into Causey on April 29th but found its water still too cold to reach bottom in the deeper portions. They were unable to find anything to support Jared Briggs’ story of Doug having dumping Joyce’s body there.
Several months later, over Labor Day weekend, a young man named Jeong Jee attempted to swim across Causey. Jeong was an exchange student from Korea, visiting the reservoir with a group from Washington Heights Baptist Church.
John Hollenhorst (from September 1, 2007 KSL TV archive): Authorities don’t know why the boy went under. He was possibly exhausted, certainly chilled by the cold water. He may have misjudged the distance he was swimming with his church group.
Dave Cawley: The Weber County dive team mobilized worked until nightfall without success. They returned the following morning, bringing a submersible robot.
John Hollenhorst (from September 1, 2007 KSL TV archive): The submersible’s video camera found the teen 121 feet deep. Its robotic arm grabbed him and brought him to the surface.
Dave Cawley: This, I’ve discovered, was not the first time searchers had scoured the lakebed. They’d done the same almost 18 years earlier, in September of ’89. They too had relied on the help of a submersible.
Larry Lewis (from September 8, 1989 KSL TV archive): Weber County Sheriff’s deputies and deep water diving experts from a Provo-based diving company used a remote-controlled camera to probe the murky depths of the reservoir.
Dave Cawley: After making the recovery in ’07, the operators of the submersible stuck around to do some extra training. They ran the robot through a portion of Causey’s north arm. Three weeks went by before Shane Minor received a call from Jeff Malan about the Labor Day weekend tragedy. Jeff had remembered their earlier conversation about the Jared Briggs tip. He told Shane about the robot and said he’d heard it had dredged up a pair of paint cans. Those cans had been full of nails. Maybe they were just some fisherman’s makeshift anchors. Or maybe they were a weight of some sort, meant to keep a buoyant object bound to the silty lakebed.
I’m not clear if this second-hand information was ever verified. In a report, Shane Minor wrote he didn’t know what happened to those paint cans, or if the area surrounding where they were discovered was ever searched. Remember though that when South Ogden police recovered Joyce’s car from where Doug had parked it near the water tank back in August of ’85, they’d found a bath towel wadded up on the driver seat. And they’d discovered a glass pint jar on the rear passenger-side floorboard. The jar had appeared to contain white paint.
Dave Cawley: The Utah Supreme Court heard oral argument in Doug’s third appeal on February 3, 2009.
Christine Durham (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): The court is here for oral argument in number four in our February calendar: State of Utah versus Douglas Lovell.
Dave Cawley: That’s Chief Justice Christine Durham.
Christine Durham (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): Alright, thank you very much. You may proceed for the appellate.
Dave Cawley: Doug had twice already challenged his conviction at the Utah Supreme Court and lost, as I explained earlier in this episode. This third trip to the high court took a slightly different approach. It focused on the guilty plea Doug had entered in June of ’93. He’d asked to take it back soon afterward, but had been left waiting without an answer for years.
David Finlayson (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): You’re going on this expedition of trying to figure out what was in the defendant’s mind back then. This case should have been decided 15 years ago.
Dave Cawley: That’s Doug’s attorney du jour, David Finlayson. Doug’s guilt or innocence wasn’t in question by this point in 1999. But if the high court allowed him to take back the guilty plea, he could have another crack at sentencing and potentially avoid the death penalty. But someone who pleads guilty can’t just change their mind after the fact. Doug had to prove to the justices that his original plea had been flawed. His attorney, Finlayson, figured he’d found that flaw. He said Judge Stanton Taylor had made several errors when advising Doug of his rights back in ’93.
David Finlayson (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): And nowhere in the record of the plea hearing was the presumption of innocence communicated to Mr. Lovell.
Dave Cawley: This exchange between Doug and Judge Taylor was what’s known a plea colloquy. Rule 11 of the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure, which I mentioned earlier, spelled out what that colloquy was supposed to include. Under the rule, judges were required to inform defendants making guilty pleas that they were waiving certain rights. Judge Taylor had done that, but using an outdated version of the text.
David Finlayson (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): The presumption of innocence has been found to be a guaranteed right in our Constitution.
Dave Cawley: The very nature of a colloquy is that it’s supposed to be a back-and-forth, not just a recitation of the text. Judges in ’93 expected a certain degree of flexibility with Rule 11. But, in the 16 years between Doug’s sentencing and this 2009 oral argument, the Utah Supreme Court had clarified judges were supposed to maintain strict compliance. We’re talking letter of the law, right down to the precise number of jurors in a capital case like Doug’s.
Christine Durham (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): Well, the trial court did advise to the unanimity required of the jury.
David Finlayson (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): They did—
Christine Durham (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): All the trial court missed was the 12.
David Finlayson (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): Right, the 12 jurors.
Dave Cawley: To put it simply, Doug was arguing he hadn’t known what he was giving up by pleading guilty. Assistant Utah Attorney General Laura Dupaix pushed back on that.
Laura Dupaix (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): He was told three times that he was giving up the right to require that the state prove that he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Dave Cawley: In the eyes of the state, all Doug had done was find an excuse to try and claw back his plea on a technicality.
Laura Dupaix (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): That’s his complaint now, is that if he had realized that he was going to get a death sentence — this is really about buyers remorse and this is exactly the thing or the kind of gamesman ship that we should be trying to avoid in the plea process — his reason for pleading guilty was hoping to avoid it. And when he found out that he couldn’t avoid it and that he didn’t avoid it, that’s when he wanted to withdraw from this plea.
Dave Cawley: Dupaix said Doug was an experienced defendant. He’d been through sentencing before, in both his armed robbery and rape trials. This, she said, meant Doug had already known his rights.
Laura Dupaix (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): It’s not whether or not the trial court uses specific magic words.
Dave Cawley: All the years of legal tug-of-war came down to this: had Doug in ’93 fully understood his rights? Had his guilty plea been knowing and voluntary? Had Doug known he was entitled to a presumption of innocence? Had he realized in order for the jury to sentence him to death, their decision would’ve had to have been unanimous? Did good cause exist for Doug to withdraw his guilty plea to the murder of Joyce Yost? If the high court decided the answer was yes, it would mean Doug would get a new trial.
Christine Durham (from February 3, 2009 Supreme Court recording): Thank you very much. Thank you counsel for your arguments this morning. We’ll take the case under advisement.
Dave Cawley: A whole new trial seemed like a long shot, given there was no question as to Doug’s guilt. Laura Dupaix told Kim Salazar not to worry.
Kim Salazar: She’d told me ‘there’s no way, there’s no way, there’s no way,’ this is gonna happen. It’s, we’ve got this thing.
Dave Cawley: But the justice system took its time.
Kim Salazar: That’s all it’s ever done.
Dave Cawley: More than a year went by. Finally, in July of 2010, the high court released its decision. Joyce’s son Greg Roberts was stunned.
Greg Roberts: My head was spinning. I was like, what!?!
Dave Cawley: The justices found in Doug’s favor. It was as if the case had hopped into a time machine traveled back to June of ’93, before Doug had admitted to killing Joyce Yost. Laura called Kim to let her know they’d lost.
Kim Salazar: She was so upset and distraught over it that I actually felt sorry for her having to deliver that kind of news.
Dave Cawley: Judge Lyon had no choice but to sign an order vacating Doug’s guilty plea, a plea Doug had originally said was meant to spare Joyce’s family any further pain and suffering. For Randy Salazar, it felt like a punch to the gut.
Randy Salazar: To see him get another chance at starting this thing all over again, it kind of made me feel like, y’know, like there’s no justice here. This, like this guy keeps on going and going and getting what he wants when he knows, he’s already testified. He got up on the stand, he told ‘em exactly what he did. He ruined a lot of people’s lives and here you’re giving him another chance. It’s just not fair.
Dave Cawley: Seventeen years had passed since Doug had first landed on death row. Twenty-five years had passed since he’d killed Joyce. After all that time, Doug had prevailed. He would get a new trial.
Randy Salazar: Doug Lovell’s got, he’s got more chances in life than Joyce ever did.