SALT LAKE CITY — The man convicted of committing one of Utah's most infamous double murders has lost his latest round of appeals, putting him another step closer to a firing squad execution.
Ronald Lafferty, 78, was seeking a certificate that would allow him to make an appeal to another court. On Monday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied that request.
"This is effectively the end of the habeas case, other than motions," said Andrew Peterson, with the Utah Attorney General's Office, meaning Lafferty's challenges to his conviction and sentence are over.
At this point, Peterson said Lafferty can ask the 10th Circuit to reconsider its decision, ask the full 10th Circuit to consider his case rather than a panel of judges, or ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case. Peterson believes it's "exceedingly unlikely" that the nation's highest court would hear Lafferty's case.
Because of Monday's decision, Peterson said it's "conceivable" that Lafferty is now just months away from execution.
Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, were convicted of slitting the throats of his sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her infant daughter in 1984 — crimes they committed after Ron Lafferty allegedly received a revelation from God telling him to kill them. Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison.
Ronald Lafferty, after delays due to questions about his competency and other appeals, was convicted in both 1988 and at his re-trial in 1996 and sentenced to death. Lafferty chose to die by firing squad, which was still a legal option at that time, and that method will be grandfathered in whenever his sentence is carried out. The state also announced in 2015 it would bring back firing squad executions if the drugs for lethal injection were not available.
Lafferty is one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the state. His case has gone through numerous appeals.
In his latest appeal, Lafferty was seeking a certificate of appealability, something he has already sought and been denied once before. A certificate of appealability is needed in order for another court to hear arguments that a habeas corpus appeal was wrongfully denied.
Peterson said Lafferty was essentially asking for a permit to be allowed to appeal.
"After exhausting his state court remedies, Lafferty sought federal habeas relief by filing a petition in federal district court," according to the 10th Circuit Court's decision issued Monday. "The district court denied his petition and also denied him a certificate of appealability. Lafferty has now filed a renewed motion."
In the appeals court's decision, the judges deny four arguments made by Lafferty: that the state did not have jurisdiction to retry him; that his retrial violated the double jeopardy clause; that he had ineffective assistance at trial and at sentencing; and that the state court erred in finding him competent to stand trial.Comment on this story
Peterson said the state will still seek a warrant of execution for Lafferty, despite his age.
"We've been attempting for several decades to have his judgment carried out," he said.
Peterson said it would be an injustice to the victims and their families if Lafferty was not executed simply because he "waited it out."
Correction: A previous version said Lafferty could be the oldest person executed in the U.S. since 1976. He would actually be the second oldest. In 2018, Walter Moody became the oldest person executed in Alabama at 83.