Immunity deal leads to murder charge for Doug Lovell in Joyce Yost case

May 18, 2021, 10:10 PM
doug lovell moved to utah state prison maximum security facility death penalty utah...
File: The Uinta facility, a maximum security area of the Utah State Prison. Photo: Dave Cawley, KSL

Immunity for the ex-wife of the man convicted of raping Joyce Yost, Doug Lovell, helped lead to capital murder charges against him seven years after Yost disappeared. 

Keeping a promise to Doug Lovell

On May 14, 1992, Sgt. Terry Carpenter was keeping promises.

Carpenter, the South Ogden police detective investigating the murder of Joyce Yost, hadn’t been able to charge the man he believed committed the crime. In part, that was because Yost remained missing. However, something critical had changed. 

On that May day, he waited with a summons for Lovell in an office at the Utah State Penitentiary. 

The summons ordered Doug Lovell to appear in a court to answer to capital felony charges related to the disappearance of Yost. Lovell, serving a sentence for the rape and kidnapping of Yost, was convicted of those crimes even though Yost herself could not appear to testify against him. 

But it was Yost’s disappearance that had Carpenter waiting for Lovell in that prison office on the 14th of May.

“I made you a promise before,” Carpenter said when Doug Lovell finally arrived, recalling a previous conversation between the detective and the convict.

“If I could get the body back, I would drop the capital aspect of it [the case] or we would submit it that way. But those were the only terms that I would work with,” Carpenter reminded Lovell. 

Lovell had refused those terms, stating to anybody that would listen that since Yost’s body had never been found, Carpenter had no case.  He reiterated as much in that prison office, interrupting Carpenter as he read the charges contained in the summons.

“So you’re saying they found Joyce Yost?” Doug Lovell asked.

As Carpenter continued reading the charges, something must have been sinking in. Despite all of Lovell’s so-called research on murder trials going forward without a body, there was a nagging thought: Who had ratted him out?

Immunity granted for ex-wife of Doug Lovell

Carpenter held back the truth from Doug Lovell: that his ex-wife, Rhonda Buttars, provided the key evidence against him. That evidence, secretly recorded inside the prison, was Lovell’s own voice confessing to the murder. 

Carpenter led Lovell to believe Buttars faced legal trouble as well. He told the inmate his ex-wife would be arrested, too. 

Carpenter came right out and said that, yes, he believed Lovell was behind the murder of Joyce Yost.

What Lovell didn’t yet know was that Carpenter made promises to Buttars, not just Lovell. After twice wearing a wire into the prison to record conversations with Doug Lovell, Buttars received the immunity promised to her.

“There was an agreement made between you and I that immunity would be sought for you,” Carpenter told Buttars, “and that there would be no charges filed against your — per se your involvement with Joyce Yost.”

Since Buttars had kept her end of the bargain, she received transactional immunity from any charges filed against Doug Lovell.

After all, Carpenter’s entire case depended on Buttars.

Paranoia festers

When Carpenter served Doug Lovell the summons for capital felony charges, another layer of state control entered his life. Prison officials moved him to a new cell in maximum security. 

For a time, he was in solitary. He lost privileges and his prison job. He had others make phone calls for him, as he tried to get back some semblance of control. Especially when it came to his ex-wife.

One call went to his brother, Russ. Doug Lovell asked a prison buddy to call Russ and check in on Rhonda Buttars. He wanted to know if she’d been arrested or charged with a crime.

As soon as he got out of solitary, he made those same calls again, himself. He seemed concerned about how Buttars would respond to the murder charges — and, so he thought, possible charges against her. Lovell told his brother he believed that police couldn’t possibly have any evidence against him. He felt the charges amounted to a bluff.

Instead, it would prove the turning point in the state’s case against Doug Lovell. 

Listen to the full episode

Season 2 of the COLD podcast will take you inside the no-body homicide investigation triggered by the disappearance of Joyce Yost. Audio-tapes 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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Immunity deal leads to murder charge for Doug Lovell in Joyce Yost case