There's not much argument that Ronald W. Lafferty has peculiar religious beliefs. At issue is whether those thoughts make the accused killer psychotic or just crazy like a fox.

Some of Utah's most prominent psychiatrists and psychologists called to decide if Lafferty has the mental capacity to stand trial for murder came to bipolar conclusions."I think personally it would be a mistake for him at this point until we're certain he's competent," said psychiatrist Peter Heinbecker, director of the Utah State Hospital forensic unit.

Lafferty's talk about evil spirits or "travelers" that possess bodies and "reflector shields" to ward off evil result from delusions or hallucinations, he said, and leave no question he has a mental disorder.

Nonsense, said Noel Gardner, a University of Utah and LDS Hospital psychiatrist, who found Lafferty engaging, articulate and funny.

"He's created a thought world that is not the product of a broken brain," he said. Lafferty's beliefs, he said, are a patchwork of ideas taken from novels, scriptures, "Star Trek" and personal reflection.

Mental-health experts and attorneys dissected Lafferty's oddities Thursday during a 12-hour competency hearing in 4th District Court. For those keeping score, the mental-health experts are deadlocked. Four say he's mentally ill; four say he isn't.

Judge Steven L. Hansen holds the tie-breaker. He'll decide whether the former death-row inmate is fit to stand trial a second time.

Lafferty is accused of slashing the throats of his sister-in-law, Brenda Wright Lafferty, 24, and 18-month-old niece, Erica Lafferty. Mother and daughter were found dead July 24, 1985, in their American Fork apartment.

Lafferty, 54, and his brother, Dan, were convicted of the slayings in 1985. They claimed the killings were ordered by God. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, however, tossed out Ron Lafferty's conviction because the wrong legal standard was used to determine his mental competence. The court ordered a new trial.

Doctors found Lafferty competent to stand a second trial in 1994.

But state prosecutors raised the competency question again after defense attorneys Mike Esplin and Linda Anderson opposed their motion to keep Lafferty out of the courtroom. Two hearings were delayed when Lafferty let loose a barrage of profanity. The attorneys outlined his bizarre religious beliefs in a Feb. 26 memo.

Defense attorneys argue that Lafferty's competence hinges on his being in the courtroom. He feels that only he is empowered to discern and profanely ward off evil travelers who might possess attorneys, witnesses, jurors or the judge.

Psychiatrist Stephen Golding testified that Lafferty's outbursts are designed to "discombobulate" the proceedings. He said Lafferty told him they're aimed at stupidity and to break an attorney's or witness' concentration.

"It's a strategy that he uses to disrupt things going on in the courtroom," said psychologist Nancy Cohn, whom Lafferty has said "hosted" an evil "traveler."

Psychiatrist Phillip Washburn said the outbursts result from delusions.

At Thursday's hearing, Lafferty whispered incessantly with attorney Anderson and court bailiffs at the defense table. He also made copious notes to himself on a yellow legal pad.

The only thing remotely close to an outburst was when he called one of the evil "travelers" being discussed a "d--- queer."

Lafferty does not recognize the state's authority to prosecute him. He refuses to stand when the judge enters the courtroom. He believes he's the target of a conspiracy, that charges were manufactured and witnesses paid off. He even questions his court-appointed attorneys because they're paid by the state.

"He has no intention of letting a corrupt system screw him," Golding said.

Psychologist Robert J. Howell said Lafferty doesn't rationally understand the murder charges. He believes it was a family matter that should be aired in a family court. If not a family forum, a church court - his own church court, Howell said.

Ironies abound in the case.

Defense attorneys lined up experts to say their client is psychotic, schizophrenic, manic depressive and the like. Such a finding would make the state hospital his permanent residence, saving him from the firing squad or a lethal injection.

Yet Lafferty adamantly proclaims himself sane.

He often nodded his head during testimony of the state's expert witnesses, all of whom found his idiosyncrasies not psychotic but the result of a narcissistic personality.

Prosecutors say Lafferty only brought up his strange theology recently as a way to stave off another guilty verdict. Assistant Attorney General Creighton Horton III called a jailer to testify about Lafferty's behavior.

Lafferty recently stuffed a towel under the bottom of his cell door at the Utah County Jail after some flooding. County sheriff's Sgt. Mike Pientka asked Lafferty last week if the towel was there to keep evil "travelers" out.

"No, that's a bunch of s---," he said Lafferty replied. "The only people that believe that is the doctors."