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Delays mark appeal for Utah death-row inmate Ronald Lafferty in 1984 case

Published January 31, 2012 6:44 am

Courts • Judge has yet to determine whether competency issue is relevant.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Almost a year after a federal judge set a three-month time line for conducting new competency evaluations of death-row inmate Ronald Lafferty, only two of the three evaluations have been completed.

As attorneys argued legal issues Monday in U.S. District Court, Judge Dee Benson said he was hopeful the competency issue for the 70-year-old Lafferty could be settled this spring.

"My goal — which is probably one of the worst met goals since the Chicago Cubs started trying to win a World Series — is to move this along," Benson said of the appeal in the 1984 murder case. "I was under the naive impression that we could get this done quickly. ... This is taking forever."

Two doctors have evaluated Lafferty. The results of those evaluations remain under seal, but attorneys on Monday indicated that Lafferty, whose legal team has said he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, has been unable to rationally communicate with his attorneys about the appeal of his conviction and death sentence.

A doctor hired by the Utah Attorney General's Office will meet with Lafferty starting next month and begin his evaluation.

Depending on the results of the three evaluations, Benson could decide to hold an evidentiary hearing on the competency issue or rule that Lafferty is not entitled to such a hearing at this point in the appeal.

Thomas Brunker, of the Utah Attorney General's Office, has argued it is irrelevant whether Lafferty is competent and that the federal appeal should be based on the record at the state court level.

Lafferty and his brother, Dan, were convicted of the July 24, 1984, slayings of their sister-in-law and her 15-month old daughter. Brenda Lafferty was beaten and strangled with a cord before her throat was slashed. The child, Erica, was found dead in her crib with a slashed throat.

According to testimony at trial, Dan Lafferty slashed the victims' throats but said that Ron Lafferty had ordered the killings because he had received a revelation from God.

afalk@sltrib.com