SALT LAKE CITY — Condemned killer Ron Lafferty wants a federal appeals court to rehear arguments it rejected last month that would keep him from facing a firing squad.

Lafferty’s federal public defenders filed a brief Monday seeking an “en banc” hearing before the entire 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. En banc hearings are rarely granted.

A three-judge panel last month rejected his request for a certificate of appeal, a legal document required for another court to hear arguments that a prior appeal was wrongfully denied. State attorneys said after that ruling that Lafferty could be months away from execution.

Lafferty’s lawyers argue that the panel’s decision conflicts with previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions on a defendant’s mental health.

The judges rejected Lafferty’s claim that a 4th District judge erred in finding him competent to stand trial in 1996. They also rejected his contention that the judge improperly relied on a psychiatrist’s opinion that Lafferty was “situationally competent.”

Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, were convicted of slitting the throats of his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her infant daughter, Erica, in 1984 — crimes they committed after Ron Lafferty claimed a revelation from God told him to kill them.

A jury convicted Ron Lafferty in 1985 and sentenced him to die. In a separate trial, a jury convicted Dan Lafferty and sentenced him to life in prison. Ron Lafferty was retried in 1996 after an appeals court found the judge used the wrong standard in finding him competent for trial. A jury again convicted him and sentenced him to die. He chose the firing squad.

One psychiatrist testified at a 1996 competency hearing that Lafferty’s buttons could be pushed in some instances by defense attorneys or prosecutors who could manipulate him and render him incompetent. Therefore, he found that Lafferty was “situationally competent” because he worked well with his lawyers and they were skilled at dealing with him. 

The judge in 1996 also relied on a theory of delusions that was not accepted in the medical community, according to Lafferty’s latest court filing. The court failed to take into account that Lafferty’s severe delusions, which stemmed from his mental illness, prevented him from rationally understanding his legal proceedings and assisting his attorneys, according to the court filing.

Mental health experts testified that Lafferty received revelations, some of which came from God, but some of which came from evil beings or spirits he called “travelers.”

Lafferty identified the “travelers” as homosexual spirit beings with the power to inhabit the bodies of living persons or hosts, including the judge, the prosecutors, the experts, his lawyers, witnesses and the jurors. Travelers have the power to “exude evil” and to control the persons they inhabit. They have the ability to travel from one human host to another since they knew the “key words” necessary to travel, according to court testimony.

Two of the experts testified that Lafferty referred to some of the travelers as “factors”: the “B factor” was Beelzebub/Buddha/Mormon/Japan; the “M factor” was Lucifer/Mussolini/Moroni; and the “H factor” was Satan/Hitler/and Lafferty’s father, Watson. Lafferty also believed that he was enlisted in a war between good and evil on the side of God in a premortal existence in which he did spiritual battle with Lucifer. Experts testified that Lafferty believed he had “Christ-like powers.” 

One psychiatrist conceded in his testimony that Lafferty’s beliefs were bizarre and not shared by any other religious group or any other single person. He also testified that Lafferty’s unusual religious ideas were “his own theological concept.” 

Lafferty’s attorneys contend those findings meet the definition for delusions, and had the judge not relied on an “unverifiable” theory of delusions, he would have found Lafferty incompetent.

“The trial court treated Lafferty’s irrational belief system as irrelevant to whether he was rationally understanding his proceedings, despite that fact that Lafferty’s beliefs were pervasive and involved bizarre beliefs about his case, the court players, and the entire legal system,” according to the court filing.

Lafferty’s public defenders also argue that during the penalty phase of the 1996 trial, the jurors never heard how evidence of his mental illness or mental state that could have been considered as mitigating factors to capital punishment.

“Evidence of this type would have weighed heavily against imposing the death penalty,” according to the court filing.