U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson recently held Ron Lafferty is competent, at least according to how federal law defines competency, to participate in the federal review of his sentence. Mr. Lafferty exhausted his appeals in state court and is now asking a federal judge to review his death sentence to prevent his execution. Counsel for Mr. Lafferty asked the court to find him incompetent claiming he is unable to assist them in his proper representation. Experts on the defense side gave evidence arguing Mr. Lafferty suffered a significant brain injury due to lack of oxygen to his brain when he attempted to hang himself back in 1994. The defense expert argued Mr. Lafferty suffered from extreme delusions as a result of his brain injury that could not be explained as simple religious extremist beliefs.
The state’s expert who evaluated Mr. Lafferty, as one might expect, had a much different opinion concerning Mr. Lafferty’s competency. The state’s expert found that Mr. Lafferty was not insane but rather suffered from extreme narcissistic personality disorder. The expert relied on statements Lafferty made such as he was “mighty and strong.” The state’s expert evaluated Mr. Lafferty many times in the past dating back to the 1990s. For those not familiar with Ron Lafferty, he and his brother were charged and convicted of a double murder several years ago, believing they were acting under the direction of god in the process. The Lafferty Murder cases are probably the most infamous murder cases ever in Utah.
The Insanity and Competency Defenses in Utah
The insanity defense in Utah is rarely brought in a case and is often difficult to prove. Utah has one of the toughest standards in the nation to prove insanity. In a murder case such as the Ron Lafferty matter, the Defendant must prove he did not have the ability to form the intent necessary to kill another.
The competency defense is much different than the insanity defense and is often easier to prove, but still very difficult. Competency refers to the defendant’s ability to understand the court proceedings against him. The recent decision by the federal court regarding Mr. Lafferty found him competent, meaning he understood the proceedings and could assist his attorneys in his defense.