The 1984 slayings by Lafferty— which were examined in Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book “Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith” — appeared to have been triggered by Lafferty’s extremist views.
Lafferty, 78, whose full name was Ronald Watson Lafferty, died of natural causes at the Draper facility, prison officials said. Though he had been on death row for decades, an execution date had not been set — but it was on the horizon after he lost his latest federal appeal in August.
His brother, Daniel Charles Lafferty, 71, who helped carry out the slayings, is serving a life sentence in a different unit at the Draper prison.
Therese Michelle Day, one of Ron Lafferty’s attorneys, said in a Monday statement that her client was mentally ill, and never able to assist his attorneys in his case. She wrote that Lafferty believed his incarceration was the result of a conspiracy between the state, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and “unseen spiritual forces,” including the spirit of the trial judge’s deceased father. He thought all of his attorneys were working against him, she said, and that one attorney was his reincarnated sister who later became possessed by an evil spirit.
“Through it all Mr. Lafferty, himself, never believed that he was mentally ill or incompetent,” Day said. “One expert said that if he was guilty of faking anything, he was guilty of pretending to be normal when he was not. Mr. Lafferty, like other mentally ill prisoners, was not treated for his mental illness as he should have been.”
Day said that while Ron Lafferty had an understanding of time and place, he lacked any rational understanding of the legal proceedings “that was not polluted by his delusions.” She said his execution should have been prohibited because of those mental health issues.
Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement Monday that state officials have “labored for decades” on Ron Lafferty’s case.
“That the wheels of justice turn so slowly in cases like this is cruel and tragic,” he said. “Now that Mr. Lafferty is facing his maker, perhaps ultimate justice will be realized and there will finally be some closure for the family of the victims.”
Ron Lafferty had chosen to die by firing squad.
The Utah Legislature ended this execution option in 2004, except for inmates who had already been sentenced to die and had selected the method. Then, in 2015, the Legislature added firing squads again, but only if courts determine Utah does not have the cocktail of drugs needed to execute an inmate by lethal injection.
Utah has not executed an inmate since Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad in 2010. Ron Lafferty had been one of eight men on death row — and a recent ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals made Lafferty the closest of them to execution.
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