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Death row inmate's first appeal points finger at Mormon church attorneys

Doug Lovell
Doug Lovell
Utah State Prison.

UTAH STATE PRISON — Doug Lovell, who was sentenced to die for a second time in April, has begun his new appeals process by pointing a finger at attorneys for the LDS Church.

Lovell's attorneys claim in court documents that they had five leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lined up to testify during the sentencing phase of his trial, but only three were allowed to speak. And those three were limited in what they were allowed to say, including whether they believe Lovell was remorseful, the attorneys assert.

On April 1, Lovell, 57, of Clearfield, was convicted for a second time of kidnapping and raping a South Ogden woman 30 years ago, then killing her to silence her testimony. A jury sentenced him to die by lethal injection. He first pleaded guilty to murdering Joyce Yost in 1985 but was spared the death penalty on the condition that he lead authorities to her remains. When he failed to do so, he was sentenced to die in 1993.

The Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea in 2010 and a new trial was ordered.

In an appeal of his latest conviction and death sentence, Lovell said he had five "witnesses to testify on his behalf who were ecclesiastical leaders of the LDS Church and who worked with defendant at the prison."

Sean Young, one of Lovell's attorneys, alleges in the appeal that attorneys from Kirton & McConkie, who represent the church, threatened to "squash all subpoenas" for those five witnesses because they "had an interest in protecting these leaders from testifying at trial, and more specifically, protecting the interests of their client," the appeal states.

Young said the two sides agreed that only three witnesses would testify in exchange for not quashing any subpoenas. But on the day they were scheduled to testify, attorneys for the church "sought to limit the testimony of these leaders to a factual testimony of their involvement with Mr. Lovell" and not to "express any opinions or give personal insight into their discussions and relationships with Mr. Lovell," the court documents state.

"This was harmful to Mr. Lovell and his case as we sought to extract testimony from these leaders as to the changes and progress Mr. Lovell made during their time spent with him. We sought to elicit an honest, personal response as to Mr. Lovell's progress and changes that they witnessed during their interaction with him," according to Young's sworn statement filed in 3rd District Court.

In an email to the Deseret News on Monday night, LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said, "Any limitations placed on the number of witnesses or the nature of the testimony were agreed to by the (LDS) Church and the defendant's legal counsel."

"Defendant's position is that this interference by the LDS Church was prejudicial to his case because these witnesses would have testified more openly about how remorseful they felt the defendant to be," Young argues.

The state, however, notes that in Lovell's original motion for a new trial filed on April 10, "no issue relating to the LDS Church or the testimony of any ecclesiastical witnesses" was raised. Furthermore, the state notes that Lovell did not file a reply to their memorandum in opposition to a new trial in the required 10-day time.

"Defendant’s motion is nothing more than attempt to file a second motion for a new trial. It does not clarify an earlier issue already raised," the state noted.

Church leaders do not generally participate in legal proceedings in which the church is not directly involved," Hawkins said. "In this case, these leaders were required by subpoena to appear in court. Their statements represent their personal experiences and opinions. They do not speak for the church. Our hearts go out to the victims of this unspeakable crime.”

Email: preavy@deseretnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam