For the children of Joyce Yost, justice is long delayed
The children of Joyce Yost know a pain that few others do: the pain of having a loved one die in an act of murder, only to then relive that pain for nearly 40 years as the person who committed the killing fights a death sentence.
Kim Salazar and Greg Roberts, the children of Joyce Yost, have been waiting for justice since 1985. They know who killed their mother, but have never been able to recover her remains.
The rape and murder of Joyce Yost at the hands of Douglas Lovell are the focus of the second season of KSL’s investigative podcast series, COLD. The experiences of Joyce Yost’s children are chronicled throughout the season but come to a head in the penultimate episode.
The children of Joyce Yost – and the first trial of Doug Lovell
The saga began on a night in early April, 1985 when Doug Lovell spotted Joyce Yost leaving a supper club in Clearfield, Utah. The two had never met, but Lovell followed Yost home where he confronted her, raped her, kidnapped her and then raped her again.
Joyce then managed to convince Lovell to release her, but not before he threatened to kill her if she reported what he’d done. Joyce had reluctantly contacted police upon arriving back home.
Joyce’s daughter Kim Salazar spoke to COLD about how she’d first learned of what had happened.
“She called and just told me that she’d been raped and of course I couldn’t get in my car fast enough,” Kim said. Kim said she’d received only the “Cliffs Notes” or shortened version of what her mother had endured.
“I mean, it’s just so devastating. You don’t, you don’t know what to do, you don’t know what to do. You’re just helpless. I mean, I didn’t know what to do for her.”
Kim accompanied her mother to court on June 12, 1985, where Joyce provided sworn testimony at a preliminary hearing against Lovell. An exclusionary rule that allowed the court to limit public access meant that Kim wasn’t in the courtroom for her mother’s testimony.
It was the only time Joyce would testify. On August 10, 1985, just 10 days before Lovell was to stand trial, Joyce Yost disappeared. Kim would never see her mother, again.
The disappearance complicated the case. The Davis County Attorney’s Office decided to push forward with the trial, even though prosecutors no longer had a victim available to testify. A proxy read the testimony Joyce Yost had given at the preliminary hearing.
The jury found Joyce’s account persuasive. They convicted Lovell of aggravated sexual assault and kidnapping. He received two 15-years-to-life sentences.
Kim and her husband Randy were outside the courtroom after the sentencing. They saw Lovell being led away in shackles.
“He had like a smirk on his face,” Randy Salazar said. “Like a, like he didn’t give a (expletive) that he was just found guilty of that so, so the closer he came, I mean, we were making pretty good eye contact, me and him and I looked at him and I said ‘You (expletive).’ And he stopped right there in his tracks,” Randy said.
Lovell then told Randy, “She’s gone, buddy. She’s gone. You’ll never find her.’
The children of Joyce Yost and the first sentence for murder
South Ogden, Utah police had suspected from the outset that Lovell had killed Yost but they lacked the evidence necessary to arrest him. Kim, meantime, had been unsatisfied knowing Lovell was only serving time for rape.
“Kim is so frustrated,” Randy said, “‘cause every time she calls, y’know, there’s nothing they’ve got.”
Doug appealed the rape conviction. The Utah Supreme Court ultimately ruled against him. A different detective took over the investigation about that same time. But to Joyce’s children, it seemed the case had stalled.
“My communication with them obviously became less and less over the years,” Kim said.
In 1991, Lovell’s ex-wife, Rhonda Buttars, revealed damning information to South Ogden police Sgt. Terry Carpenter. Buttars told about the night Joyce disappeared and about how Lovell had killed Yost. It was a huge break in the case and allowed prosecutors to at long last file a formal capital homicide charge against Lovell.
By May of 1992, Doug Lovell was being arraigned in the Weber County courthouse. Rhonda Buttars testified against him at a subsequent hearing that summer.
Joyce Yost’s children seemed torn about Buttars. Greg Roberts told COLD he felt Buttars had been under the influence of a psychopath at the time of the murder. Kim’s thoughts about Buttars were much more pointed.
“She is in my mind the one person that could have stopped it that night,” Kim said, referring to the night Joyce was killed. “[Rhonda] held all the cards. And I get fear. I understand fear. But my mom literally lived across the street from the police station. She could have dropped him off. … she didn’t have anything to be scared of.”
Salazar was referring to Buttar’s admission that she’d known Doug intended to kill Joyce Yost when Buttars had dropped Lovell off in Joyce’s neighborhood on the night Yost disappeared.
A son returns home
Joyce’s son Greg had been away at dental school in 1985. He returned to Utah in the early 1990s, as the murder investigation targeting Doug Lovell was gaining steam. He reunited with his sister and other extended family. Because more than five years had passed since Joyce Yost’s disappearance, Utah’s courts declared her legally deceased.
That allowed Yost’s family to hold a funeral for her. It was, as COLD host Dave Cawley described it, a ritual that allowed the family to grieve.
“She didn’t have a negative bone in her body,” Kim said. ” … was never cross, she was never foul or nasty. She was happy … beautiful, she was the whole package. (Joyce) was just wrapped up with the most beautiful bow.”
They placed a headstone for Joyce at Washington Heights Memorial Park cemetery. However, the family visits only infrequently because they know Joyce’s body does not rest beneath the headstone bearing her name.
What price, murder?
In 1993, Lovell signed a memorandum of understanding outlining a plea agreement he’d reached with the Weber County Attorney’s Office. In it, he would admit to murdering Joyce Yost in August of 1985 to prevent her from testifying against him in the rape case. Lovell said he would lead investigators to Joyce’s remains, and in return, prosecutors would not seek the death penalty.
The deal collapsed after Lovell took police to a location where he claimed to have left Joyce’s body, but an intensive search by police failed to turn up any sign of her remains.
“I think that was just a bunch of (expletive.) There was never, he was trying to create mitigation. He, she’d never been there. He’d never been there. They overturned that hillside and there wasn’t so much as a fingernail,” Kim said.
South Ogden police had pulled together enough evidence to prove Lovell’s guilt, even in the absence of the plea agreement. In June of 1993, Lovell pleaded guilty to the murder.
When Doug’s sentencing hearing began on July 29, 1993, Joyce’s family was in the courtroom. They watched and listened, as character witnesses took the stand to vouch for Doug.
“I think somebody got up and testified that he was a, uh, he was an inmate that was always trying stop conflict inside the prison,” Randy Salazar recalled. “Give me a break. Quit giving him credit.”
Others highlighted Lovell’s clean prison disciplinary record, the jobs he’d held at the prison, as well as his efforts to mentor youth who were following his path into a life of crime.
Despite their glowing accounts, on August 5, 1993, Judge Stanton Taylor sentenced Doug to die for the murder of Joyce Yost. It came as a relief to Joyce’s children.
On her way out of the courtroom that day, Kim Salazar spoke to the media.
“He’s gotta second judgment day still ahead,” Kim said. “Maybe before he’s executed he’ll tell us what we need to know.”
The long and winding road
Hope denied for the children of Joyce Yost
After Lovell’s sentencing, the children of Joyce Yost wanted one thing — to know where Doug Lovell had hidden Joyce’s body. They told COLD that by this point, as Lovell faced the death penalty for what he’d done, that he’d have little to lose by giving them the location.
They went to see him in prison. Face to face.
“I think Kim had some hopes that she was going to find some answers to why he did it,” Greg Roberts said, “‘cause she asked him that. But I think she left there tortured and worse off for it.”
Kim said she believed Lovell was dishonest with her during their meeting.
“I just don’t, I don’t, didn’t believe you could sit three feet from me and look me square in the eye and see my pain and lie to me,” Kim said, “but it’s totally possible when you’re Doug Lovell. It’s totally possible because he did it for over an hour.”
At the end of that hour, Greg Roberts shook the hand of his mother’s killer.
“I had to shake his hand through some, through the bars,” Greg said, “and I just wish I’d have broken his arm.”
A family splinters
By 1997, as the appeals process continued, Kim Salazar’s marriage was suffering. She and Randy both worked outside of the home and were trying to raise three children at the same time. She was also keeping close tabs on the progress of Doug Lovell’s appeals.
“It changes how you are as a wife, as a mother, y’know it just does things to you,” Kim said. “It changes who you are. It’s not right.”
Kim and Randy had grown apart over the years since Joyce’s disappearance. Kim filed for divorce in 1998.
“I don’t blame my divorce on this,” Randy Salazar said. “Everyone has problems in their marriage … but … it was some hard times. It was some real hard times.”
It had taken eight years to move from Joyce’s disappearance to the murder trial and death sentence. But Lovell had immediately asked to withdraw his guilty plea. His case became wrapped up in a series of appeals. The Utah Supreme Court twice ruled against him.
A punch to the gut for the children of Joyce Yost
Fast forward to 2010. The Utah Supreme Court agreed with Lovell’s claim, made during one of his appeals, that he should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea due to an error on the part of Judge Stanton Taylor.
“My head was spinning. I was like, what!?!” Joyce’s son Greg Roberts said.
Randy Salazar saw injustice in the high court’s ruling.
“To see him get another chance at starting this thing all over again, it kind of made me feel like, y’know, like there’s no justice here. … He ruined a lot of people’s lives and here you’re giving him another chance. It’s just not fair,” Randy said.
Doug Lovell’s got, he’s got more chances in life than Joyce ever did get.”
The children of Joyce Yost move forward
Doug Lovell’s withdrawal of his guilty plea set the stage for a trial. He had two options — to stand trial under the law that’d been in effect in 1985 when the murder had occurred, or the law in 2015 when the trial took place.
The old law provided two potential sentences for the crime of capital murder: life with the possibility of parole or death. The new law added the option of life without the possibility of parole. In either case, the jury’s decision in selecting death would have to be unanimous.
“I don’t know, is it worse to just be caged up like an animal for the rest of your life or to die for what you’ve done,” Kim Salazar said.
Doug chose the old law, gambling that he’d be able to convince a single juror he deserved an opportunity to one day leave prison.
Joyce Yost’s children, meantime, pressed the prosecutors to once again seek a sentence of death.
When Lovell’s second trial finally began on Monday, March 16, 2015 — almost 30 years on from Joyce Yost’s first encounter with Lovell — Kim Salazar and Greg Roberts were the first witnesses to testify. Kim and Randy’s daughters Melanie and Melissa, who’d been small children at the time of Joyce’s murder, were in the courtroom. They heard detailed accounts of what Lovell had done.
“They’re hearing it raw in a courtroom. It wasn’t censored, it wasn’t filtered,” Kim said.
“I remember them calling me up after, after one day of the trial and just crying and saying ‘dad, mom went through hell,'” Randy Salazar said.
Bringing Joyce into the courtroom
Doug Lovell’s defense team did not contest his guilt and the jury quickly convicted him of capital murder. The question then became, should he die for what he did?
The trial entered its penalty phase. The jury would weigh aggravating and mitigating evidence. The prosecution allowed Joyce’s children to provide victim impact statements. Kim and Greg tried to explain to the jurors what they’d each lost.
“She was a great, great, great, mother. A wonderful grandmother. She was so happy,” Greg told COLD.
“Everybody will say the same thing. ‘Oh, she was so beautiful. Oh, she was so sweet. She was the kindest woman. … She was genuine,” Kim added.
Greg Roberts’ own children had not yet been born at the time of his mother’s murder.
“I miss terribly that my kids couldn’t know her and get a bigger piece of her, uh, growing up. A bigger influence from her growing up,” Greg said.
But would that be enough to sway the jury?
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 learn 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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