SALT LAKE CITY — Condemned killer Ron Lafferty believes a judge's father's ghost tormented him during hearings related to his 1996 murder trial because he didn't like how his son handled the case.
The presence, he claimed, caused him feelings of physical discomfort, leading him to disrupt the courtroom, something he did often with verbal outbursts and gestures. The ghost's purpose, he believes, was to express disappointment in how the judge conducted the proceedings.
Lafferty's attorneys say it is significant because it shows how he maintains "highly idiosyncratic" beliefs about how spirits interfere with his case.
"This delusion cannot be explained away as a religious belief because it diverges from LDS theology," they wrote in a new filing in U.S. District Court.
"While LDS theology accounts for spirit beings and their occasional interactions with mortal beings, there is no accounting for a departed spirit, as an incorporeal entity, causing a physical disturbance in the mortal world."
Attorneys for the death row inmate say the ghost of the judge's father is just one of several delusions that make him incompetent to help them move forward with a federal review of his conviction and sentence.
They filed a 71-page brief Friday asking U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to delay the case until Lafferty's mental health can be restored. The filing follows a two-day competency hearing in October. The state will also file a post-hearing memorandum within two weeks.
Some of the information in Lafferty's new brief was previously kept from the public. Benson has allowed attorneys to file documents under seal, but is reconsidering after the media filed a petition to open the records.
Claiming a revelation from God, Lafferty and his brother, Dan Lafferty, slashed the throats of their sister-in-law, Brenda Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, in 1984. Dan Lafferty is serving a life sentence.
Psychiatrist Michael First testified at the October hearing that a lack of oxygen to Ron Lafferty's brain when he hung himself in December 1984 — five months after the killings — caused cognitive and psychotic disorders that led to hallucinations and delusions.
The Utah Attorney General's Office contends Ron Lafferty understands the legal process and is able to assist his lawyers. Another psychiatrist, Noel Gardner, testified that Ron Lafferty has a narcissistic personality and extreme religious and political views but isn't delusional or psychotic.
In the court brief, Ron Lafferty's attorneys say he believes there's a conspiracy among them, the state and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to usher him to the execution chamber.
They describe several "delusions" he has had about his past lawyers and "spirit surveillance" in the Utah State Prison.
Ron Lafferty believes his defense attorney in the 1996 trial, Linda Anderson, tried to put a curse on him but that he deflected it back onto her. He believes the curse caused the breast cancer that ultimately took her life.
Ron Lafferty believes that he and another former member of his legal team, Megan Moriarty, are reincarnations of a brother and sister who previously lived several hundred years ago in England. He also believes Anderson's spirit took over Moriarty's body, causing Moriarty to no longer represent him.
"He could not accept that she would have made a decision to cease her representation of him, and instead insists that it was caused by an evil spirit being," according to the court brief.
More recently, Ron Lafferty maintains that evil spiritual forces not only manipulate his attorneys, but inhabit the bodies of prison guards and inmates who are conducting surveillance for the LDS Church and to use against him in court.
"This shows that the delusions that he has experienced in the past are not isolated in time, and Mr. Lafferty maintains a continuing belief that antagonistic spirit beings are actively interfering with his legal proceedings by collecting information for use against him," according to the brief.
A federal appeals court overturned Ron Lafferty's first conviction in 1991 because the judge used the wrong standard to determine his mental competency for trial. He underwent another round of psychological evaluations, and a state judge found him able to stand trial again in 1996.
A jury again convicted him and sentenced him to die. He chose death by firing squad.