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Utah court denies Ron Lafferty's request for new trial

Ron Lafferty
Ron Lafferty

The Utah Supreme Court on Friday denied Utah death-row inmate Ron Lafferty's request for a new trial based, in part, on the issue of whether he was mentally competent in 1985 to stand trial for murder.

In all, justices this week ruled on five claims in Lafferty's appeal. His next step may be to appeal in federal court.

Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, were convicted in separate trials for the 1984 murders of their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica. Ron Lafferty was found guilty and sentenced to death. He initially won a retrial, but in 1997 he was again found guilty and condemned to die.

More recently, Ron Lafferty claimed there was new evidence to suggest that he was not mentally competent to be tried in 1985. But in that trial and before later court appearances, there were at least four competency evaluations by at least three different mental health professionals that deemed Lafferty competent to stand trial. Specifically, forensic psychologist Stephen Golding testified in court that Lafferty was "situationally competent" to stand trial.

Lafferty was basing the new evidence on how the same doctor, Golding, who once declared him competent, has since stated that alleged Elizabeth Smart kidnapper Brian David Mitchell is not competent for trial. One commonality in each case is that both men have had verbal outbursts in the courtroom.

Five justices, however, said that "in light of the fact that three other experts had found Lafferty competent to stand trial, the newly discovered evidence does not dictate a different competency determination, let alone a different trial result."

The Utah Supreme Court also ruled against Lafferty's other claims, which included arguing that his trial counsel had a conflict of interest in his case and that his counsel was "ineffective."

The two victims in the 1984 slaying were found in their American Fork home with their throats cut by what police said was a barber's razor. Law enforcement officials said the murders were the result of misguided religious revelation. Lafferty's brother Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison without parole for his role in the murders.