The Utah Supreme Court today unanimously refused to grant a new trial to death-row inmate Ron Lafferty in the grisly slayings of his sister-in-law and niece.
The 66-year-old Lafferty, who slit the victims’ throats in a religiously motivated slaying, now can appeal in federal court.
Lafferty was convicted of the murders of sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica. According to investigators, the killer claimed he had received a “removal revelation” from God that targeted four people, including Brenda and Erica.
The killer – brother of Brenda’s husband, Allen Lafferty – allegedly believed that the four had somehow either helped his ex-wife obtain a divorce or played a part in his excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In his appeal, Ron Lafferty claimed numerous grounds for reversal of his conviction and death sentence, including an allegedly erroneous finding that he was mentally competent. He argued that a forensic psychologist disavowed the theory he used to determine that he could be tried because he was able to aid in his defense.
The Utah Attorney General’s Office disagreed that the psychologist had decided his theory was invalid in every case and said Lafferty was mentally competent.
Prosecutors say Lafferty’s brother, Dan Lafferty, forced his way into the victims’ American Fork home on July 24, 1984, and Ron Lafferty followed him inside a few minutes later. Two friends waiting outside in a car heard fighting and Brenda pleading for her child’s life.
Allen Lafferty found his wife and daughter dead with their throats cut when he returned home later.
Ron and Dan Lafferty, members of a polygamist cult called School of the Prophets, were convicted in separate trials of the murders. Dan was spared the death penalty, while Ron was sentenced to die.
A federal appeals court overturned Ron Lafferty’s conviction in 1991, ruling the trial judge used an incorrect legal standard in finding him competent. He was retried in 1996, found guilty and again sentenced to death.
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