SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah judge has ruled that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not interfere in a death row inmate’s 2015 trial when it laid out ground rules for what local church leaders could say before they testified as character witnesses for the man.
Death row inmate Doug Lovell, 62, claimed the witnesses were effectively silenced by the church, or never contacted at all by his court-appointed attorney, Sean Young, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.
The lawyers argued the witnesses were family members, inmates and former church leaders who could have told jurors Lovell positively affected their lives. Those testimonies, which were not all given, could have swayed the jurors, they said.
Instead, Lovell was sentenced in 2015 to die by lethal injection for killing Joyce Yost three decades ago in an effort to silence her after she had alleged Lovell had raped her. Lovell appealed the verdict, claiming the church interfered in his trial and he didn’t receive adequate legal representation.
In a recent court ruling, Second District Judge Michael DiReda said Young wasn’t deficient in his representation and didn’t contact several witnesses because they would have said damaging things about his client.
DiReda also said the church didn’t interfere with Lovell’s case and told former bishops to tell the truth, but did not emphasize what they should say.
Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder in 1993 under a plea agreement that would have removed the death penalty if Lovell could show authorities the location of Yost’s body. The body was never found and the agreement was voided, but Lovell still pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to death.
In 2011, the Utah Supreme Court allowed Lovell to withdraw his guilty plea. He was then convicted at trial and again sentenced to death. The state Supreme Court in 2017 heard the case again and sent it back to a district court to determine if Lovell’s attorneys did their jobs properly and if the church asked ecclesiastical leaders to not testify.
The case will now get kicked back to the Utah Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in whether Lovell should receive another trial.
Lovell is one of seven men currently on death row in Utah. An execution date is unclear.
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