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Federal judge in Utah unseals dozens of Lafferty documents

Published January 10, 2014 3:15 pm

Courts • Also this week, U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson found Ron Lafferty mentally competent.
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A federal judge on Friday unsealed 66 documents filed over a three-year period in legal proceedings involving the competence of condemned killer Ron Lafferty.

Defense and state attorneys supported the move by U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson, which was sought by The Salt Lake Tribune and other media.

The decision came a day after Benson found Lafferty, 71, mentally competent to participate in ongoing legal proceedings aimed at stopping his execution for the 1984 murder of his sister-in-law and niece.

Among the documents that were unsealed are those detailing Lafferty's beliefs that he was tormented by the ghost of a trial judge's father, and that he and a former defense attorney were siblings several hundred years ago in England.

During 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.

But Benson on Thursday concluded Lafferty is not suffering from a mental disease or defect that interferes with his ability to understand the nature of and consequences of the ongoing case.

Lafferty, Benson said, has "the ability to assist his counsel if he chooses to do so."

The case has been on hold since January 2010, when Lafferty's attorneys raised questions about his competency.

Since then, Benson noted, the "legal landscape" for competency determinations in appeals has changed. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that defendants do not have a statutory right to be competent during such proceedings, which focus on record reviews.

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.

Lafferty's attorneys said their client's delusions involve both his legal proceedings and his experiences with spirit beings. They assert Lafferty's delusions existed prior to when he attempted to hang himself in December 1984, an event that caused brain damage.


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