Ronald Watson Lafferty had a fair trial, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene ruled Friday. He denied the condemned man's request for a writ of habeas corpus on his double-murder conviction.
The decision apparently leaves Lafferty with only two more chances in the federal court system: a review by the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.Gary H. Weight, one of Lafferty's lawyers, said after the decision that an appeal is likely. But he added, "We have to talk to Ron - it's his decision."
On Oct. 31, U.S. Magistrate Ronald N. Boyce recommended that the federal court turn down Lafferty's motion. Friday, Greene adopted the magistrate's report and recommendation.
Lafferty has said he is a religious prophet. He slashed the throats of his sister-in-law, Brenda Wright Lafferty, and her baby daughter, Erica, in American Fork on July 24, 1984. He was sentenced to die for the murders.
His brother, Dan, was also convicted and was sentenced to life in prison.
Lafferty, wearing an orange prison jump suit, remained shackled throughout the brief hearing. While the judge was talking, he spoke in a loud whisper to his attorneys, Weight and Michael D. Esplin, both of Provo.
In this hearing, the attention focused on two arguments by Weight: that Lafferty was incompetent to stand trial in 1985, and that he did not knowingly waive the right to a defense based on diminished capacity.
Weight said that before the trial, experts ruled that Lafferty was suffering from religious delusions by reason of paranoia. He believed his act was "motivated solely by a command of heaven," the lawyer said.
That itself could be evidence that he was operating under diminished capacity, according to the defense.
Greene said, "On the subject of competence, I'm impressed at the deep and intense consideration of that matter that was given" by the then-4th District Judge Robert Bullock. "There were extensive hearings, careful observations, before the suicide attempt and after."
Lafferty tried to hang himself, but was discovered in time to save his life. He suffered some mental impairment because of lack of oxygen, but later recovered partially. After that, Bullock ruled he was competent to stand trial.
"There has been no evidence that has been presented here that refutes that finding," Greene said.
On whether Lafferty waived his right to a defense of diminished capacity, Greene noted that the trial judge discussed with him the possibility of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.
"The defendant said, `I don't believe I'm insane,' " Greene said.
When Bullock asked him whether he would cooperate with other mental health experts to determine his sanity, Lafferty insisted he would not.
"I don't intend to cooperate with the examiners," he said, according to the transcript read by Greene.
"That would certainly apply to the defense of diminished capacity, as well as to the defense of insanity," Greene said.
In fact, Lafferty himself refused to allow his lawyers to put on a defense of that nature. "His belief was that he was not guilty because he was commanded to do what he did" by a revelation, Greene said.
Lafferty knowingly waived his right to that defense, he ruled.
"He made decisions at the trial. He understood what he was doing. I am reluctant to second-guess the trial judge . . . Mr. Lafferty had a right to do what he did (in court) and the trial judge was prudent and balanced."