A tearful Allen Lafferty told a 4th District jury Monday that several months before his wife and infant daughter were slain, his brother Ronald W. Lafferty informed him that God had ordered the two "removed."
"I told him that God had made no such revelation to me, and I would protect them with my life," he testified.But Allen Lafferty was not able to protect his wife, Brenda Wright Lafferty, 24, and daughter Erica, 15 months. He told jurors that when he returned from work on the night of July 24, 1984, he found evidence of a "great struggle" in the couple's American Fork apartment and blood everywhere.
After searching a house that "seemed empty," he found his wife's cold and battered body lying on the kitchen floor in a large pool of blood. An appliance cord was wrapped around her neck and her throat was slashed. He knelt by her side, called her name, but there was no answer.
"I went over to Brenda and I prayed," he said.
A few moments later he found his infant daughter in a back bedroom slumped in "an unnatural position" in her crib. Her throat also had been cut, her body cold and her bedding soaked with blood.
Allen Lafferty was the first witness in the double capital murder retrial of his brother, Ron Laf-ferty. State prosecutors allege that Ron and Dan Lafferty killed their sister-in-law and niece almost 12 years ago out of revenge and hatred.
Juries convicted both brothers of the crimes in separate trials in 1985. Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison, where he remains today. Ron Lafferty was sentenced to die. However, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1991 that Ron Lafferty should receive a new trial because the judge used the wrong legal standard in determining his mental competence.
In opening arguments Monday, Utah Assistant Attorney General Creighton Horton said Lafferty was a bitter and angry man who blamed others for problems created by his extreme religious views. When Diana, his wife of 20 years, divorced him in the fall of 1983 and moved to Florida with the couple's children, he felt it was on the encouragement of Brenda and two local church leaders.
"The defendant hated Brenda and blamed her for Diana leaving," Horton said.
Horton told jurors that Ron Lafferty used religion as a means of getting others to support his anger. It was at a meeting of a small religious group, called The School of Prophets, that Ron Lafferty first discussed the "removal revelation" that he allegedly received from God. However, other members of the school rejected the revelation as false.
Still angry and bitter, Ron Lafferty traveled the country with Dan Lafferty and two drifters, Horton said. On July 23, 1984, the four returned to Utah and stayed in Provo at the house of the Laffertys' mother. The next day they drove to American Fork, where with a 10-inch boning knife, Dan Lafferty killed Erica and Ron Lafferty killed Brenda Lafferty. Horton said Dan Lafferty wanted to shoot the victims, but his older brother insisted on slashing their throats.
Much of Allen Lafferty's testimony backed the prosecution theory. He said his brother told him many times that he was upset with Brenda Lafferty for "meddling in their affairs." He said his brother repeatedly called Brenda Lafferty a b---- and told him that he was justified in taking action against those who crossed him. When he learned of the "removal revelation," Allen Lafferty said he asked his brother why Erica was included.
"Ron blurted out that she would grow up to be a b---- just like her mother," he said.
The couple that formerly lived on the other side of Allen and Brenda Lafferty's duplex said they saw Ron Lafferty and his green station wagon in Brenda Lafferty's driveway on the afternoon of July 24, 1984. Moments after noticing the car, they heard a loud thud that sounded like someone moving a large piece of furniture in Brenda Lafferty's apartment.
American Fork Police Lt. Terry Fox said that during a search of Ron Lafferty's Orem home, he found the "removal revelation" written on a sheet of yellow note paper inside one of Ron Lafferty's shirt pockets.
Scheduled to testify Tuesday afternoon is Barry Crowther, a former member of The School of Prophets. Mark Lafferty, who warned police shortly after the murders that his brothers might also be targeting two local church leaders, also is scheduled to take the witness stand Tuesday.
Judge Steven L. Hansen has equipped a room adjacent to the courtroom with closed-circuit television in case Ron Lafferty lets go with a verbal outburst, like he has done many times in the past. However, the defendant sat calmly through most of Monday's testimony, taking notes and running his fingers through his beard and mustache. He occasionally conversed with his co-counsel, Linda Anderson.
The eight-man, seven-woman jury is expected to hear more than four weeks of testimony. Three of the jurors are alternates, but the judge won't reveal the alternates until testimony is complete.