Attorneys for condemned killer Ron Lafferty say their client believes he was tormented by the ghost of a trial judge’s father and that he and former defense attorney were siblings several hundred years ago in England.
Those delusions illustrate Lafferty’s incompetence and inability to properly assist in efforts to undo his death sentence, the attorneys say in a new court filing. They want U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson to stay the proceedings and send Lafferty, 71, to the Utah State Hospital for treatment aimed at restoring his mental health.
The filings follow a two-day competency hearing in October, the second day of which was opened to the public. A psychologist who testified for the state said that while Lafferty has narcissistic personality disorder and, despite paranoid views of the government and unique religious beliefs, is not psychotic. A psychologist who testified for Lafferty’s defense team said he has chronic psychotic delusions.
Benson has not yet ruled on a media petition to unseal other court documents in Lafferty’s file. Lafferty’s attorneys filed their follow-up briefs publicly, while state attorneys filed their post-hearing brief under seal but said they will file a redacted public version within two weeks.
Questions about Lafferty’s competency have been raised since his first trial in 1985 for the murders of his sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and 15-month-old niece.
He was convicted and given the death penalty in that trial, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found the wrong standard was used to assess his mental competency and ordered that Lafferty be tried again. Lafferty was convicted and given death a second time in 1996.
According to his attorneys, Lafferty’s delusions generally fall into two categories: those involving his legal proceedings and those involving the presence of and interaction with spirit beings.
He believes, for example, that two unidentified men brought him an altered copy of the appellate court decision from which the word “vacated” had been removed.
Lafferty also believes the state, the LDS Church and his former federal attorney conspired to manufacture evidence against him and have him executed.
Lafferty believes that the ghost of Judge Steven L. Hansen’s father tormented him during the second trial, causing him physical discomfort and leading him to act out during the proceedings. The ghost, according to Lafferty, did so because he was unhappy with how the judge conducted the proceedings.
While many of Lafferty’s beliefs are rooted in the Mormon faith within which he was raised, this particular belief diverges from LDS theology about how spirit beings interact with the mortal world, the attorneys say.
“This is not a belief that is shared by Mr. Lafferty’s cultural or subcultural group,” the brief says. “Therefore it is a delusion.”
Likewise, Lafferty likely felt some attraction to one of his former female defense attorneys, which resulted in his belief they shared a special relationship in the past, his attorneys say.
“Since this is a belief that they were reincarnated beings, and not people who knew each other from a pre-existent spirit world, it is a belief that deviates significantly from LDS theology,” they say in the brief.
Lafferty also believes an evil spirit took over the attorney and caused her to end her representation of him, an incorrect inference about her decision to change employment, the brief says.
They cite several other examples of Lafferty’s delusional beliefs about attorneys who have represented him and staff at the Utah State Prison to illustrate his inability to work with his defense team.
Lafferty’s attorneys say their client likely had mental disorders even before he attempted to hang himself in December 1984, whichcaused him to suffer brain damage.
“Since the attempted hanging, there has never been a serious question as to whether Mr. Lafferty suffered from a mental disorder, only questions of the type and severity,” the defense says.
One psychologist who evaluated Lafferty in 2011 concluded he was “currently manifesting delusions and cognitive symptoms that cannot be explained by his religious and extremist political beliefs.” Rather, they appear to be due to brain damage and an unspecific mental disorder related to his attempted hanging, the filing says.
The psychologist noted that Lafferty fakes being “well” and “refrains from talking about subjects that he knows evaluators would consider evidence of mental illness.” It is only after hours of careful interviewing that the “true nature and severity of his delusions becomes apparent.”
Lafferty also has a marked inability to stay on track in a conversation, a problem so severe it rises to the level of a mental disorder.
“His perception is that the entire [legal] process is rigged to achieve a certain outcome, and that all participants are guilty of capital felony treason,” the brief states, and that makes it impossible for Lafferty to assist or consult with his defense team.