10th Circuit denies habeas relief in high-profile 1984 Utah murder case

Today, in Lafferty v. Benson, the Tenth Circuit (in an order signed by Judge Briscoe) denied a certificate of appealability in the high-profile murder case of Ron Lafferty, who was convicted of murdering his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her fifteen-month-old daughter, Erica. He was sentenced to death.

The case is receiving media attention. You can read more about it in this story by Nate Carlson in the Salt Lake Tribune, which notes that as a result of this decision, Lafferty may face a firing squad within months.

Lafferty’s crimes were featured in Jon Krakauer’s 2004 book, Under the Banner of Heaven. Lafferty blamed Brenda for his divorce and was also resentful over his excommunication from the Latter-Day Saints church. Lafferty and some of his brothers formed a group called the “School of the Prophets,” who claimed to receive revelations from God. In 1984, he claimed to receive a revelation that several people, including Brenda and Erica, were to be “removed.” He and his brother, Dan, then murdered Brenda and Erica in July 1984.

In an earlier proceeding, Lafferty was granted habeas relief, but was sentenced to death again at his new trial in 1996. Today, the Tenth Circuit rejected several claims raised by Lafferty — i.e. that the Utah state court lacked jurisdiction to retry him in 1996, that his retrial violated double jeopardy, that he received ineffective assistance at sentencing, and that the state trial court erred in finding him competent to stand trial.

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