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'Cold': How police built a capital murder case against Douglas Lovell for the killing of Joyce Yost

'Cold': How police built a capital murder case against Douglas Lovell for the killing of Joyce Yost

(Joyce Yost family)



SALT LAKE CITY — South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter served Douglas Lovell with a court summons for criminal charges on May 14, 1992. Lovell, who was at that time incarcerated for sexually assaulting Joyce Yost in April of 1985, was at last being accused of murdering Yost to prevent her from testifying against him.

An audio recording of the encounter, which was made without Lovell's knowledge, is featured in the eighth episode of the KSL investigative podcast series "Cold's" second season. The recording has not previously been publicly released.

"So you're saying they've found Joyce Yost," Lovell asked Carpenter in the recording.

Police had not, in fact, located Yost's body but they had developed enough evidence that the Weber County Attorney's Office had taken the rare step of filing a charge of capital murder against Lovell in a no-body case.

A no-body capital case

A year earlier, Carpenter had offered to pursue a lesser charge if Lovell assisted him in recovering Yost's remains. Lovell had insisted he didn't have any knowledge of what had happened to Yost.

"One of the things that would have saved you the capital aspect of it would have been cooperating with me on that but obviously you refused to do that," Carpenter said.

Joyce Yost (center) appears in this undated photo with her children, Kim Salazar (née Roberts) and Greg Roberts.
Joyce Yost (center) appears in this undated photo with her children, Kim Salazar (née Roberts) and Greg Roberts. (Photo: Joyce Yost family)

The recording showed Lovell was deeply committed to the lie he'd been telling for seven years: that he was not responsible for Yost's death.

"You're saying I killed her," Lovell said in the recording.

"I am, yes. I sure am, Doug," Carpenter replied.

"You're wrong, Carpenter," Lovell said. "You're dead wrong."

The case against Doug Lovell

Unbeknownst to Lovell, Carpenter had spent the prior year working with Lovell's ex-wife Rhonda Buttars to gather evidence. Buttars had admitted to dropping her husband off outside Yost's apartment on the night of the murder and picking him up afterward. She'd twice worn a wire into the Utah State Prison during visits with Lovell, capturing audio of Lovell making incriminating statements on tape.

Buttars had also provided police with details of her ex-husband's two failed attempts to hire hitmen during the summer of 1985, in the hopes they would kill Yost while providing him an opportunity to create alibis for himself.

The Weber County Attorney signed an agreement on May 13, 1992 providing Rhonda Buttars immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony in the capital murder case against her ex-husband, Douglas Lovell.
The Weber County Attorney signed an agreement on May 13, 1992 providing Rhonda Buttars immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony in the capital murder case against her ex-husband, Douglas Lovell. (Photo: Weber County Attorney's Office)

At the request of police and prosecutors, Buttars had also recorded phone conversations with Lovell. She'd received a promise of immunity for her cooperation from the Weber County Attorney's Office, but had not revealed that fact to Lovell.

Instead, Buttars had told her ex-husband she feared being arrested as an accomplice and would likely testify against him to protect herself if that were to happen. The phone call recordings, also obtained by "Cold," include repeated instances when Lovell promised to shield Buttars by paying for her bail and lying about her involvement in Yost's murder.

Carpenter's gambit

Carpenter, the lead investigator in the Joyce Yost homicide investigation, played on Lovell's fears when serving him with the summons.

"I'm going after Rhonda right now, Doug," Carpenter said in the recording. "I can prove her involvement too."

"If you think Rhonda was involved in something, I guess you're crazy," Lovell replied.

The capital murder charge triggered a re-assessment of Lovell's status at the Utah State Prison. Staff there reclassified him, moving Lovell out of the medium-security housing unit where he'd been living for the prior five years and into the prison's maximum-security Uinta facility.

The Uinta facility at the Utah State Prison, seen here, houses maximum-security inmates. Uinta 1, section 1 has served as home for Utah’s death row.
The Uinta facility at the Utah State Prison, seen here, houses maximum-security inmates. Uinta 1, section 1 has served as home for Utah’s death row. (Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL Podcasts)

After the move, Lovell made phone calls to his brother, urging him to find out whether Buttars had been arrested and, if so, to arrange her bail.

"It's a big bluff thing to see if anybody does know anything to see if they'll crack or not," Lovell told his brother in one prison phone call recording obtained by "Cold." "Tell her not to say nothing to the police, to nobody."

In a subsequent call to Buttars, Lovell expressed confusion over learning she'd not been arrested or served with criminal charges, as he'd been.

"This has all kind of come about since you and I split up and y'know, it kind of makes me wonder," Lovell said.

Buttars' testimony

Lovell soon learned his ex-wife had betrayed him. Both Lovell and Buttars attended an arraignment hearing in Clearfield Circuit Court on May 20, 1992, less than a week after police Sgt. Terry Carpenter served Lovell with the capital homicide charge.

Buttars testified at a preliminary hearing two months later, outlining from the witness stand how she'd spent the prior year cooperating with investigators in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

The strength of her testimony helped advance the case toward trial. Lovell's defense attorney attempted to have Buttars' statements and surreptitious recordings barred as evidence but ended up failing in that effort.

As a result, Lovell entered into plea negotiations with the Weber County Attorney's Office. He ultimately admitted to having killed Yost. The body of Joyce Yost has never been located.

Listen to the full episode

Season 2 of the "Cold" podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by Yost's disappearance. Audiotapes never before made public will allow you to hear Yost, in her own voice, describe the events which preceded her death.

You will learn why police suspected one man, Douglas Lovell, yet were unable to arrest him at the time. And you will see how some individuals and institutions gave — and continue to give — Lovell every opportunity to evade the ultimate penalty.

Hear Joyce Yost's voice for the first time in the "Cold" podcast season 2, available to listen free on Amazon Music.

Free resources and help with sexual abuse are available 24/7 at RAINN.org. You can also call 800-856-HOPE (4673).

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