SALT LAKE CITY — Utah prison officials state a death-row inmate convicted of double-murder who was approaching an execution by firing squad, has died of natural causes.
Utah Department of Corrections spokeswoman Kaitlin Felsted announced in a statement Monday that 78-year-old Ron Lafferty died at the state prison in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper.
Lafferty was possibly only months away from becoming the first American executed by firing squad in nearly a decade after an appeals court denied his latest judicial appeal in August.
Lafferty was convicted in the 1984 deaths of his sister-in-law and her baby daughter. He claimed God directed the killings carried out with his brother because of the victim’s opposition to his dogmas in polygamy.
One-time members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Ron and Dan Lafferty became disenchanted with the faith and joined a group called the School of the Prophets. They disapproved of their sister-in-law because they believed she was the reason Ron Lafferty’s wife left him after refusing to allow him to marry a second wife.
Declaring a vision from God, they severed the throats of Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, nearly beheading the toddler. The killings coincided with July 24, 1984, the day commemorating Latter-day Saint pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley. Ron Lafferty stated the revelation told him to “remove” the two, along with two of Brenda Lafferty’s friends, to prevent them from “obstructing God’s work.”
FBI agents later arrested them in Reno, Nevada.
The Laffertys were to go on trial together until Ron Lafferty attempted to hang himself to death in jail as well as attempted to murder his brother. Both were convicted in separate trials in 1985. A solitary holdout juror saved Dan Lafferty a death sentence. Ron Lafferty’s conviction was reversed on appeal and he went on trial again in 1996. A jury again convicted him and sentenced him to death.
If Ron Lafferty had survived until his execution, he would have become the first person executed by firing squad in America since 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed in Utah for his 1984 murder of an attorney during a failed courthouse escape.
The Utah Legislature ended this execution option in 2004, except for inmates who had already been sentenced to die and had selected the method. Then, in 2015, the Legislature added firing squads again, but only if courts determine Utah does not have the cocktail of drugs needed to execute an inmate by lethal injection.
Dan Lafferty, brother of Ron, is serving two life sentences in Utah State Prison; he bypassed the death penalty by one juror vote. The brothers have stated for 20 years that Ron Lafferty received a revelation telling him to kill his brother Allen’s wife and child, so they did.
On July 24, 1984, both men went into Allen and Brenda Lafferty’s home in American Fork, Utah and sliced Brenda Lafferty’s throat and her child’s throat with a boning knife. Dan Lafferty admitted to making the actual killing.
Strangely enough, that was not the only time that Dan has been associated with murder, even though he never physically killed another person. Dan claims his ideas likely influenced a couple’s decision to fatally overdose themselves along with their children.
Dan Lafferty perceives himself as a prophet who will equip the world for the Second Coming. He has little following, but 10 years ago he began a relationship with a young woman named Kristi Strack, who was drawn to him after reading a book chronicling the slayings that put him in prison.
In September 2014, Kristi Strack and her husband, Benjamin, and three children overdosed on a combination of methadone and over-the-counter medications, an action that Lafferty states was influenced by his ideas and philosophy.