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Inmate's lawyers hopeful

Hearing shows he got ineffective legal help in 1993, they say

Douglas Lovell listens during a hearing Monday. Lovell is challenging his death penalty conviction in the 1985 death of Joyce Yost.
Douglas Lovell listens during a hearing Monday. Lovell is challenging his death penalty conviction in the 1985 death of Joyce Yost.
Nick Short, Standard-Examiner

OGDEN — Lawyers for death row inmate Douglas Lovell insist a three-day evidentiary hearing that ended Wednesday bolstered their claim that Lovell got ineffective legal help in 1993 and laid a solid foundation for any future appeals to the Utah Supreme Court.

Lovell signed a guilty plea in 1993 admitting he murdered Joyce Yost in 1985 and agreed to have a judge hear the penalty phase of the capital case rather than a jury. Lovell has insisted that his lawyer at the time, John Caine, had promised the sentencing judge would not impose the death penalty — a notion Caine has refuted repeatedly under oath.

Lovell, 47, has twice tried to withdraw his guilty plea and the Supreme Court returned the case to district court after expressing misgivings about whether one attempt in particular had fallen through the legal cracks.

Lovell's new defense attorney, Jim Retallick, said Wednesday a key factor in the case was an earlier agreement with prosecutors that they would not seek the death penalty if Lovell would help them find Yost's remains.

Despite extensive searching, her body was never found.

Retallick said Caine should have known from four different sources that Lovell said he covered the body with leaves rather than burying it in a remote canyon area. Given the passage of time, weather conditions and other factors, finding a body years after a death would be highly unlikely.

"He (Caine) should have known the body was not buried before working out a plea," Retallick said outside the courtroom.

Caine has consistently said he made no promises to Lovell but advised him to go with a judge rather than a jury for the sentencing part of his case because the details of Lovell's crimes against the woman were so ugly that a jury of citizens would most likely be inclined to opt for capital punishment.

Lovell has admitted to brutally raping Yost, then killing her later to keep her from testifying against him in the rape case. He was convicted of the rape anyhow based primarily on her testimony at a preliminary hearing.

Moran Lovell, the defendant's father, flew in from Denver to take the stand Wednesday and testified Caine had assured him that his son would not get the death penalty because now-retired 2nd District Judge Stanton Taylor had never given anybody the death penalty.

Caine also took the stand for a second time and said he was aware of such things as anonymous calls about the case and rumors about a coven of witches committing the crime.

Caine said he was more concerned about powerful evidence amassed by police, especially Lovell's confession that he murdered Yost, which he made to his former wife, Rhonda Buttars, who wore a wire to visit Lovell in prison.

Caine also said he didn't file formal motions for discovery because at that time, attorneys representing indigent clients and Weber County prosecutors engaged in an "open file policy" in which he and other lawyers had full access to police reports and prosecutor's records for cases the lawyers were handling.

Outside the courtroom, Kim Salazar, Yost's daughter, said she couldn't understand the relevance of the information presented at this latest hearing. "We've heard it all before," she said, adding that Lovell knew what he was doing when he entered his guilty plea. Criticizing Caine now is simply a ploy on Lovell's part, she suggested. "It's the one thing he's got to appeal."

Second District Judge Michael Lyon said a written transcript of the hearing will be prepared in a few weeks, then lawyers will have time to submit legal briefs and, if needed, request hearings for oral arguments. Lyon later will rule on whether Lovell knowingly and voluntarily entered his plea, and lawyers for both sides agree that no matter what decision the judge comes to, one side or the other will immediately appeal it to the Supreme Court.