Utah Supreme Court says Killer Doesn't Deserve New Trial

Utah Supreme Court says Killer Doesn't Deserve New Trial

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Utah Supreme Court unanimously refused to grant a third trial for death-row inmate Ron Lafferty for the grisly 1984 slayings of his sister-in-law and niece over a religious revelation.

The 66-year-old Lafferty, who was convicted of slitting the victims' throats with a barber's razor, can now appeal to the federal courts.

Lafferty tried to argue he was never mentally competent to stand trial and that his defense lawyer was ineffective.

He based his claim on a complaint that the same forensic psychologist who declared him able to stand trial found alleged Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell incompetent.

It wasn't clear how Lafferty was trying to draw the connection, but both defendants are known for making courtroom outbursts. Mitchell was kicked out of court again last week at a hearing to determine if he should be forcibly medicated.

In its decision Friday, the Utah Supreme Court said that "in light of the fact that three other experts had found Lafferty competent to stand trial, the newly discovered evidence does not dictate a different competency determination, let alone a different trial result."

Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, were convicted in separate trials for the 1984 murders of their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica.

For his role, Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Ron Lafferty was sentenced to death, but a federal appeals court in 1991 overturned his conviction because a trial judge used an incorrect legal standard to find him competent. He was retried in 1996, found guilty by a 4th District jury and again sentenced to death.

Dan Lafferty testified he slit Brenda's throat. However, one of the friends in the car outside the home said Ron Lafferty admitted killing his sister-in-law. The Utah Supreme Court's decision affirms that and declares that Dan also slit the baby's throat.

Prosecutors say Dan Lafferty forced his way into the victims' American Fork home on July 24, 1984, and that Ron Lafferty followed him inside a few minutes later. The friends in the car heard fighting and Brenda pleading for her child's life.

Their younger brother, Allen Lafferty, found his wife and daughter dead when he returned home from work.

Ron Lafferty claimed to have a religious revelation sanctioning the slayings because of Brenda Lafferty's resistance to his beliefs in polygamy. The slayings were the subject of the best-selling 2003 book, "Under the Banner of Heaven," by Jon Krakauer that chronicles the religious extremism that motivated the Lafferty brothers.

While he can appeal to the federal courts, Ron Lafferty long ago chose to die by firing squad rather than lethal injection.

Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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