OGDEN — Death row inmate Douglas Lovell wants to take back his guilty plea in the murder of a woman nearly 12 years after he confessed to the crime because he insists his lawyer promised a judge would not impose the death penalty.
Lovell testified at an evidentiary hearing Monday that his attorney, John Caine, made the promise after working on plea bargains with prosecutors in connection with the murder of Joyce Yost.
Caine, a prominent criminal defense lawyer who has handled numerous capital murder cases, is expected to take the stand today.
Lovell reportedly killed Yost in 1985 in Ogden Canyon to stop her from testifying against him after he was charged with raping her. Yost's body was never found.
Lovell testified Monday that during a lengthy process of plea negotiations with prosecutors, Caine told Lovell repeatedly that the trial judge "would have a hard time giving you the death penalty" and eventually convinced him there was no way the death penalty would be imposed.
Lovell described an initial plea agreement in which he would get life in prison with the possibility of parole if he confessed to the crime. Lovell said he and Caine were trying to get taped comments Lovell had made about Yost's death suppressed. If that appeal failed, Lovell told his attorney he would agree to the plea.
Lovell said he told Caine he hadn't told his family about the crime and didn't want them blindsided by media coverage, so Lovell asked if it would be OK to tell others about the murder. At a later court hearing, Lovell said Caine informed him that the appeal had failed and the plea deal was off.
"I said, 'John, you've got to be kidding. I just confessed to my family and 31 other prisoners. I let them all know.' I was really upset," Lovell said.
Lovell said Caine went back to prosecutors and returned with a new deal: show them where Yost's body was, plead guilty to her murder and receive a sentencing hearing.
At a subsequent hearing, Lovell said Caine told him that deal also was off because a member of Yost's family objected.
"I was furious," Lovell said.
Lovell said he wrote to the judge and Caine asking to fire Caine and let him represent himself. But he heard nothing from the court and found Caine present at the next hearing, still serving as his lawyer.
Around this time, police and Caine took Lovell into the canyon to search for Yost's remains. Lovell said on two occasions his attorney and police provided him with several beers before they searched.
Lovell ultimately agreed in 1993 to a written plea bargain in which he confessed to capital murder, waived a jury sentencing phase and accepted a sentencing hearing with a judge that included three options: death by lethal injection, prison with parole and prison without parole.
He said he signed it to spare Yost's family and his own family a long legal proceeding, and to avoid getting the death penalty.
Lovell said Caine told him the death penalty portion of the plea was there just to appease the victim's family.
"He flat out told me (the judge) is not going to give me the death penalty," Lovell said.
Later that year, his lawyer filed a notice to appeal the sentence, and Lovell submitted a handwritten motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Other claims made by Lovell were struck down by the Utah Supreme Court.
But Lovell's motion to withdraw his plea apparently fell through the cracks, and the high court said in April it considers Lovell's motion to withdraw the plea still pending before 2nd District Court.