Utah v. Lafferty

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Utah v. Lafferty was a 1984 murder case in the state of Utah. It gained substantial publicity due to the accused persons' statement that the murders were the result of a divine revelation.


Ron Lafferty and his younger brother Dan were charged for the throat-slashing homicides of their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, that occurred on July 24, 1984.[1] Ron, a self-proclaimed prophet,[2] claimed to have received a revelation from God in which he was instructed to "remove" several people including the two victims.

Attorneys Michael Esplin and Gary Weight were appointed to serve as "standby" counsel for the brothers when they were charged with homicide in August 1984. They represented the brothers during their competency hearings. At the conclusion of the competency evaluations, and while incarcerated in the Utah County jail, Ron Lafferty attempted suicide in December 1984. This resulted in severe injury and mental damages. Following the suicide attempt, Ron was held at the Utah State Hospital[3] for several months.

Dan's case[edit]

Dan Lafferty represented himself during his trial, although he had access to the standby counsel. The jury trial resulted in a guilty verdict, and he was sentenced to 5 years to life.[4] Esplin and Weight appealed the case to the Utah Supreme Court, which upheld his conviction.

Ron's case[edit]

Ron Lafferty was found competent to stand trial by doctors at the Utah State Hospital. Ron was tried in 1985, convicted and sentenced to death. The penalty was upheld after an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.[5] The United States Supreme Court rejected a further appeal.

The U.S. District Court for Utah upheld the conviction, however the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's verdict and reversed the conviction, finding that the state and the lower court judge had committed error in finding Ron competent to stand trial. The state of Utah filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court which was turned down.

Ron was remanded to the Fourth District Court for Utah so he could undergo competency proceedings, was found incompetent to stand trial and sent to the Utah State Hospital for treatment.

Three years later, a court found that Ron's competency was "restored" and in 1996 he was retried for the crimes. After a 3-week trial, Ron was found guilty of a capital offense. Further appeals to the Supreme Court of Utah and the U.S. Supreme Court were denied.

On August 12, 2019 the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear Ron’s case by a unanimous decision. Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote:

"Lafferty has failed to make this showing with respect to any of the four claims on which he seeks a COA [certificate of appealability],"

The courts decesion gives Ron few options left to appeal his execution. Ron has elected to be executed by firing squad.[6]

Jon Krakauer's book, Under the Banner of Heaven,[7] is primarily based upon interviews with Dan Lafferty.


  1. ^ Thompson, Jan (June 21, 1988). "ATTORNEY CALLS LAFFERTY'S DEFENSE REQUEST FOR A TRIAL TRANSCRIPT A `STALLING TECHNIQUE'". Deseret News. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  2. ^ Morris, Michael (May 24, 1988). "LAFFERTY FIGHTING FOR HIS LIFE AFTER ALL". Deseret News. Retrieved 4 September 2014.
  3. ^ "Utah State Hospital". Retrieved 2014-07-21.
  4. ^ "Utah State Prison". Retrieved 2014-07-21.
  5. ^ "STATE of Utah, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Ronald Watson LAFFERTY, Defendant and Appellant".
  6. ^ "Court rejects notorious killer Ron Lafferty's latest appeal, moving him closer to firing squad execution".
  7. ^ Krakauer, Jon (2004). Under the Banner of Heaven. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 372. ISBN 1400078997.