Facebook Twitter



Prosecutors and Rhonda Buttars have a deal: They will not prosecute her for the murder she helped carry out, with her 4-year-old daughter in tow, in exchange for her testimony against then-husband Douglas Lovell.

Buttars wore a recording "bug" supplied by the Secret Service when she went to visit Lovell, now her ex-husband, at the Utah State Prison. A detective listened in as they talked about burglary, murder and would-be hired killers.She tells all in the 2nd District courtroom in downtown Ogden and then returns to her job across the street as a state employee for the Department of Social Services.

The same prosecutors and Douglas Lovell had a deal: They would not seek the death penalty against him for the August 1985 murder of South Ogden resident Joyce Yost, which he admitted to one month ago, if he could lead investigators to her body.

The deal, for Buttars, is working out.

But the deal is not working out for Lovell.

Five times he and detectives have traveled into Ogden Canyon to the area near Snow Basin where he said he buried Yost after strangling her, but they have found no trace of the body.

So Weber County deputy attorneys were in 2nd District Court Thursday and Friday pursuing the death penalty against Lovell for murdering Yost. Whether he will get the death penalty on the capital murder charge will be up to Judge Stanton Taylor, who presided over the two-day pre-sentencing hearing.

In opening statements Thursday, deputy Weber County attorney William Daines said the state will prove five times over that the aggravating circumstances in Yost's kidnapping and murder point to a death sentence, outweighing mitigating circumstances that would steer the court toward a life sentence.

Lovell's attorney, John Caine, said Friday that his client has made considerable progress during the eight years he has been incarcerated in the Utah State Prison since being convicted of raping Yost.

Because of that, "he deserves to have that opportunity" to continue making progress. "There are other alternatives to the death penalty that are more appropriate."

Caine said prison staff, social workers, Lovell's family members and Lovell's own testimony will demonstrate those alternatives to the court.

Lovell, 35, was to stand trial for raping Yost, 39, when she disappeared 10 days before the trial was to begin. The trial went on without her, and Lovell was convicted of aggravated rape and aggravated kidnapping based on Yost's earlier testimony during preliminary court proceedings.

Lovell killed Yost to prevent her from testifying at the rape trial, Buttars said. "He said he wanted to get rid of her. Kill her. Or have somebody kill her . . . so she couldn't testify."

She then described how Lovell tried to have Yost killed before he finally killed her himself.

First, he promised to pay a friend called Billy Jack $600 to kill Yost.

But it didn't happen. One day later, Billy Jack and his belongings were gone when Buttars and Lovell returned home, she said.

So Lovell hired a second would-be killer, Thomas Peters, and paid him $800 from a Workman's Compensation check to kill Yost.

Peters, who served prison sentences in Colorado and California before coming to Utah and doing time here, testified he came to be known as a "hit man" even though "I didn't kill people but I did hurt them if they didn't pay their debts.,"

Lovell met Peters in prison. While living in Salt Lake County in 1985, Peters said, Lovell contacted him about a woman pressing charges against him for rape. He said he told Lovell "I'll take care of it" and took the $800.

But he said he never planned to kill Yost. "I was dope sick," he said, a heroin addict with a $300-a-day habit.

"(Lovell) finally said `If it doesn't happen, I'll do it myself.' "

Buttars said she kept following along because she was scared of Lovell and didn't think he who go through with the killing.

Then on the evening of Aug. 10, 1985, "He said he wanted me to drive him up to Joyce's house because he wanted to kill her." Buttars drove him to the apartment. Yost's car was in the carport. Buttars dropped Lovell off and returned home.

About dawn the next morning, she was awakened by a call from Lovell. She got up, dressed and dressed her daughter. They went in her car to a location Lovell had described. She said he was waiting there, in Yost's car.

Buttars said Lovell told her Yost was asleep when he entered the apartment. He was wielding a knife that cut Yost's hand when she woke up, startled. Yost said she would drop the rape charge off if he would not kill her.