DRAPER — Ask Dan Lafferty to talk about the grisly murders of his sister-in-law and her 15-month-old daughter, and he shows a little bit of emotion.

Ask him about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, and his eyes brim with tears.

During an interview with the Deseret News at the Utah State Prison, Lafferty, whose beard is bunched together to match the ponytail running down his back, sports a warm smile and an eager attitude to talk.

His favorite topic is his deeply held religious beliefs, including the conviction that he is the prophet Elijah and will soon be freed of his shackles by divine intervention.

Now 54, Lafferty has served almost 18 years of a sentence of life without parole for the bizarre ritual murders of Brenda Lafferty and her daughter, Erica, on July 24, 1984. News of the deaths gripped the state.

Lafferty and his brother Ron were charged with the slayings. Later, Utahns would learn the murders were planned and executed by a group of religious radicals called The School of the Prophets, which the Laffertys founded.

Dan Lafferty believes God commanded him to kill Brenda Lafferty because she was driving a wedge between his brothers.

Asked if he was at peace, he says, "Oh, yeah. I'm convinced that it was God's business. . . . I don't have any regrets about the events. I felt there was a purpose for it all."

Ron Lafferty is on death row. That rankles Dan Lafferty a bit, since he says he was the sole killer.

Dan Lafferty says his brother was "God's mouthpiece and I was the arm," making it clear he believes his brother Ron received revelations from God.

Ron Lafferty has denied taking part in the murders, although police and witnesses placed him at the scene.

"I have never claimed to be a prophet, only said that I once belonged to an organization called 'The School of the Prophets.' I have never said or claimed that God told me to 'kill' anyone," according to a letter Ron Lafferty sent to the Deseret News in October.

According to Dan Lafferty's court testimony and information from the investigation, Dan and Ron Lafferty went to the American Fork home of their younger brother, Allan.

Allan shared the home with his wife, Brenda, and their daughter. Dan Lafferty said he thought the voice that told him to kill Brenda was God's way of testing him.

At the time, Allan Lafferty was at work. Police say the two brothers forced their way into the house. Dan Lafferty was armed with a barber's straight razor. Brenda Lafferty was beaten as she begged for the life of her child before a vacuum cleaner cord was used to strangle her.

After killing Erica in her crib, Dan Lafferty returned to slash the throat of her mother.

So why did he kill the child? Because she was a "child of perdition," he said during the interview with the Deseret News.

One jury sentenced Dan Lafferty to life in prison without parole while a separate jury sentenced Ron Lafferty to death. Ron Lafferty is currently fighting the last stage of his appeals in federal court, having exhausted his state appeals.

Dan Lafferty doesn't show much emotion when asked about his brother's death sentence. He says he's not going to worry about somebody else's business.

Dan Lafferty said that while attending a California school to become a chiropractor, he developed a strong hatred toward the government and became a strict constitutionalist. He stopped paying taxes and refused to get a driver's license.

But years in prison have softened his attitudes toward law enforcement and authority.

"I wanted a war against what I saw was an unjust government," he said. "I realized it's not my place to change the world."

Dan Lafferty said he has little contact with his family with the exception of his mother, who visits him occasionally. His marriage to his wife, Dolina, ended shortly after the murders. He said at one point he wrote a letter to Allan Lafferty, explaining his motives.

"He's such a good boy," Dan Lafferty said. "He was concerned about my repenting."

Lafferty has long since settled in to prison life, despite an incident in 1994 when he reportedly tried to stab a fellow inmate.

One of his recent jobs was to put out meals in his section in maximum security. He has also honed his skills as an artist, drawing animals mostly in black and white.

"I draw mostly nature scenes and Rocky Mountain wildlife," he said. A friend outside of prison is trying to sell Lafferty's work to local art galleries but so far has had no success.

Despite his previous aversion to technology, Lafferty said he bought a small TV.

"I like the reality shows. 'Survivor' is probably my favorite," he said.

His next favorite are news magazine shows. John Grisham is his favorite author. He also enjoys talking with his cell mate, Mark Hoffman, the famed forger.

Lafferty will say little about Hoffman. "He's very private and doesn't like to be talked about," he said. "We're real good friends, and we respect one another's differences."

Lafferty eats one meal a day and has a long list of foods that he avoids, including apples. He tolerates milk, oranges, grapefruits and processed turkey.

When asked how he has coped over the years in prison with no hope of parole, Lafferty said he takes life in prison two weeks at a time, hoping God will release him when he comes to Earth.

When the two weeks expire, he looks forward to 14 more days, again planning for the heavens to open for the coming of Christ.

"I'd never expected to be here this long," he said. "I've made it this long just making it two weeks at a time."

E-MAIL: gfattah@desnews.com