After more than three decades on death row, Utah inmate Ron Lafferty died in prison Monday of natural causes.
Lafferty was convicted in the 1984 killings of his sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter Erica.
The religious-motivated murders were featured in the Jon Krakauer book “Under the Banner of Heaven.” Lafferty’s brother, Dan Lafferty, is serving life in prison for helping carry out the killings.
Lafferty was likely only months away from being executed after an appeals court rejected his latest appeal in August. And the 78-year-old’s execution had not yet been scheduled. He had chosen to be executed by firing squad.
“Our family is grateful to everyone involved in this lengthy process,” Brenda Lafferty’s sister, Sharon Wright Weeks, wrote in a message Monday.
Attorney Therese Day described her client as a “mentally ill man” who did not receive proper treatment.
“Mr. Lafferty believed his incarceration and conviction were the result of a conspiracy between the state, the Church, and unseen spiritual forces, including the spirit of the trial judge’s deceased father, among others,” Day wrote in a statement. “He believed that all of his attorneys were working against him, and that one attorney was his reincarnated sister who later became possessed by an evil spirit. A person suffering from this level of mental illness and delusional thinking is not competent to assist his counsel throughout his legal proceedings.”
Utah has not executed an inmate since 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner died by firing squad.
“The fact that (Lafferty has) been on death row for decades and then passes away of natural causes, essentially, is not a huge surprise by any means,” said Nick Mecham with the Utah Justice Coalition, a group that opposes the death penalty.
Mecham pointed out that in December 2018 another death row inmate, Floyd Maestas, died of natural causes before his execution was scheduled.
There have been several unsuccessful attempts to repeal the death penalty in Utah in recent years. In 2016, a bill to end capital punishment passed the state Senate but failed in the Utah House.
Opponents of capital punishment say there’s not only a moral argument, but also a financial reason for ending the death penalty. A 2012 audit showed that the state spends about $1.6 million more on death row inmates than those sentenced to life in prison.
Death penalty opponents say they’ll again push to abolish execution in the 2020 legislative session.