In a final attempt at profane gamesmanship, killer Ron Lafferty tried to force a 4th District judge to decide Friday morning for him how he should die.
"Do you have a preference?" Judge Steven L. Hansen asked Lafferty, who was shackled and wearing an orange prison jumpsuit."Preference? Do you ask me which I least prefer? No, I certainly do not have a preference," he said. "I least prefer your lethal injection."
Lafferty then launched into a tirade against the judicial system, called the judge a "political punk" and an "idiot" and told him do what he had to do.
Hansen imposed lethal injection as Utah law binds him to do if the defendant won't choose, only to have Lafferty blurt out that he'd already had a lethal injection of Mormonism and that he'd like to try something different.
"Oh, I'll take the firing squad," Lafferty said emphatically. "How's that? Is that clear enough?"
Hansen then sentenced Lafferty to die by firing squad on July 19. Death sentences, however, are automatically appealed under Utah law.
Psychiatrists testified during the trial that Lafferty likes engaging in word and mind games with people.
A 4th District jury recommended execution for Lafferty April 16, two weeks after convicting him of murdering his sister-in-law and niece. It was the second time Lafferty was found guilty of the 1984 slayings. Hansen delayed imposing the sentence until Friday to allow defense attorneys time to file several post-conviction motions.
Lafferty brutally killed Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, July 24, 1984. Mother and daughter were discovered in their American Fork home with their throats slashed. Lafferty and his brother Dan were convicted of the crimes in 1985. Ron Lafferty was sentenced to death in 1985; Dan Lafferty to life in prison. A federal appeals court overturned Ron Lafferty's conviction in 1991 because the wrong standard was used to determine his competency to stand trial.
Several months prior to the killings, Ron Lafferty claimed to have received a "revelation" calling for the "removal" of Brenda and Erica and two LDS Church leaders in Highland. Prosecutors said Lafferty was exacting revenge on those who encouraged his wife, Diana, to divorce him in 1983.
Prior to imposing the death sentence, Hansen denied a defense motion to reduce Lafferty's penalty to life in prison.
Lafferty has been awaiting trial on the capital crimes or on death row for 12 years.
Attorneys Mike Esplin and Linda Anderson argued that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment. The cruelty, they said, lies not in the execution, but in the "degrading and brutalizing ordeal of waiting for one's own death."
Anderson called Lafferty's death sentence "grossly disproportionate" to his brother's lifetime prison term. Lafferty didn't kill anyone, she said. Dan Lafferty testified at his brother's trial that it was he who killed the mother and baby.
State prosecutor Creighton Horton said the argument ignores the fact that the jury could disbelieve Dan Lafferty's testimony. It was inconsistent with evidence and prior statements, he said.
Defense attorneys also argued that only the judge has the power to decide what Lafferty's sentence should be. Hansen disagreed.
Attorneys also say prosecutors inappropriately played a videotape of the crime scene showing the slain victims, especially Erica in a crib, during the penalty phase of the trial. They argued that video constituted "victim impact" evidence and that the state had agreed not to introduce such evidence. Two jurors cried after watching the video.
Horton said the video simply "made it real that a child's life was taken" and that prosecutors removed graphic segments before playing the video for the jury.
In addition to the death penalty, Hansen earlier imposed four superfluous prison terms on Lafferty for conspiring to kill the two church leaders and two aggravated burglaries.