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Prosecutors portray man as calculated killer in 30-year-old death penalty trial

SHARE Prosecutors portray man as calculated killer in 30-year-old death penalty trial

OGDEN — Douglas Lovell's gruff inmate jumpsuit from so many previous hearings was gone, and in its place was a blue blazer worn over a collared shirt.

Lovell sported slicked back hair and talked quietly with his defense counsel before the beginning of his new murder trial Monday, almost blending in with his surroundings.

Lovell is no stranger to courtrooms. He spent years on death row for the very murder he's now on trial for. But it should be easy for the jury hearing his case to convict him since he's confessed to the crime and his own attorney even told jurors Monday that he did it.

This jury, however, will be asked to decide whether he should return to death row or be given a life prison sentence.

Prosecutors wasted no time Monday portraying Lovell as a calculating, heartless killer when opening arguments got underway in 2nd District Court.

Deputy Weber County attorney Gary Heward described the agony of Lovell's victim, 39-year-old Joyce Yost, when Lovell raped her in 1985 four months before she was murdered. Lovell stalked Yost from an eatery in Clearfield to her front driveway in Ogden, he said.

"(Lovell) forced his way into the car, threatened to kill her if she didn’t consent to sex and grabbed her by the throat. … Joyce is praying 'cause she doesn't know if she's going to live or die," Heward said. "She fights back, she honks the horn, she scratches him in the face with keys, which simply makes him more angry."

Lovell also took Yost back to his home and raped her there, Heward said.

That rape occurred in April 1985. But two weeks before she was scheduled to testify against Lovell in the rape case, she was kidnapped and killed. Years later, prosecutors charged Lovell with aggravated murder. He pleaded guilty to the crime as part of a plea bargain that he hoped would spare him the death penalty. As part of that deal, he was supposed to help investigators find Yost's body. But despite accompanying them on five trips to Ogden Canyon, her body was never found.

A judge sentenced Lovell to death by lethal injection.

However, the Utah Supreme Court allowed him to withdraw his guilty plea in 2010 after his attorneys successfully argued that he was not adequately informed of his constitutional rights at the time. The case was sent back to the district court and a jury began hearing the evidence against him Monday.

Heward, who is seeking the death penalty anew, described Lovell's murder of Yost as the culmination of a four-month plot with multiple false starts.

Lovell hired two other hit men, Heward said, and stalked Yost to find a way to kill her.

"He starts to scout her apartment. … He goes up there on multiple occasions at night," Heward told the newly assembled jury of eight men and four women.

When Lovell's murder for hire plans fell through, Heward said, the Clearfield man broke into Yost's home on 40th Street in Ogden in August 1985. Heward cited Lovell's confessions to his ex-wife in the early 1990s to describe Yost's desperate pleas shortly before she was killed.

"She is terrified. She is begging him," Heward said. "(She said), 'We can make a deal.' She is pleading for her life."

Heward said Lovell lied to his victim, telling Yost he simply needed to hide her away so she wouldn't testify against him in court.

Lovell drugged Yost so she would be too disoriented to call for help and then drove her to Ogden Canyon, where he "chokes her, stomps on her neck and puts leaves on her body," Heward told the jury.

Lovell's admissions of guilt make the retrial an open-and-shut case, he said.

Heward also depicted Lovell as remorseless. He said Lovell taunted an angry family member after he was sentenced for raping Yost. Prosecutors used Yost's testimony from another court hearing before her death to convict Lovell.

"(Lovell said), 'She’s gone, buddy. She’s gone,'" Heward said.

Defense attorney Michael Bouwhuis told jurors he would not try to prove that Lovell did not murder Yost.

"We don’t dispute that evidence," Bouwhuis said. "Our focus is going to be on the second phase, the sentencing phase. … (Our evidence) and the state's evidence is going to be exactly the same."

Bouwhuis said his defense of Lovell will zero in on whether the jurors can in good conscience sentence another person to die.

"This case will focus on one very important decision you will make," Bouwhuis said. "That is, whether you are willing to give a life."

Bouwhuis said the jurors were selected because they indicated during the selection process that prosecutors would need to positively demonstrate that Lovell was deserving of the death penalty in order to go through with that sentence.

"If you had not given that answer, then none of you would be sitting on the jury right now," Bouwhuis said.

Heward told the Deseret News that the alternative to the death penalty would be a sentence of life in prison with the opportunity of parole, assuming the jury finds Lovell guilty.

Bouwhuis argued in a motion that Lovell should be allowed to enter a conditional guilty plea in order to prevent the jury from resenting him for taking up their time with a lengthy criminal trial when they're already admitting his guilt. But 2nd District Judge Michael DiReda denied the motion last week.

Kim Salazar, Yost's daughter, painted a picture for jurors of a loving mother and grandmother who was cruelly taken from their lives. Salazar, who has attended every one of Lovell's hearings since 1985, said she and Yost worked together at a photography studio. She described her mother a happy, caring person who was enjoying life and had "the most positive attitude of anyone I’ve ever known."

Email: blockhart@deseretnews.com

Twitter: benlockhartnews