Latter-day Saint Church defends involvement in death penalty case

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended its involvement in a death penalty case.

Defense attorneys for death row inmate Doug Lovell have accused the Church of interfering in his case by pressuring bishops assigned to minister at the Utah State Prison from testifying on his behalf. Lawyers representing the faith appeared in an Ogden courtroom on Friday as some of those bishops testified as Lovell seeks an appeal of his murder conviction.

In a statement to FOX 13 on Saturday, the faith defended its actions.

“Any limitations placed on the number of witnesses or the nature of the testimony were agreed to by the Church and the defendant’s legal counsel,” Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said. “Church leaders do not generally participate in legal proceedings in which the Church is not directly involved. 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.”

Lovell is facing execution for the 1985 murder of Joyce Yost. He was accused of killing Yost to prevent her from testifying against him for kidnapping and raping her. Lovell’s defense wanted to use the Latter-day Saint bishops as character witnesses to speak about the inmate’s redemption while incarcerated. The defense has suggested the Church was worried it would appear to be siding with a murderer.

The Church has resisted, arguing in court filings that it has a longstanding policy that ecclesiastical leaders should avoid testifying in litigation to avoid misinterpretations of whether they speak for themselves or the faith.

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