If Erica Lafferty had lived, she would be in second grade, probably growing seedlings in a cup, learning the names of dinosaurs and pestering her mother for a slumber party on her eighth birthday.
Instead, she remains forever a toddler in the memories of the Utahns who can still recall the solemn youngster gazing at the camera from the arms of her laughing mother.To remember how old Erica would have been is to realize how slowly the wheels of justice turn. With the help of his brother, Ron Lafferty murdered 15-month-old Erica and her mother 6 1/2 years ago.
Tuesday he appealed his conviction for that murder to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, one more step in an appeals process that could meander through the courts indefinitely.
Attorneys for Lafferty and the state flew to Denver Monday night to re-enact a debate they have already waged in front of the Utah Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court.
Lafferty believes the jury that convicted him of first-degree murder and sentenced him to death was not impartial, said assistant Utah Attorney General Sandra Sjogren. Lafferty also argues that he should have been prevented from prohibiting his attorney from offering an insanity defense.
"Our position all along has been that everything that occurred at trial was done correctly. There were no errors," Sjogren said. "He waived his right to put on a sanity defense on record. Therefore his claim that he should not have been allowed to prohibit that defense is without merit."
Both sides were to present brief oral arguments before the court midmorning Tuesday.
Lafferty's attorneys will add one new facet to their arguments Tuesday. They believe that U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene should have held a hearing when Lafferty's appeal was before him to determine if Lafferty was competent or his attorney ineffective.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which probably won't rule for several months, could send Lafferty's case to one of several courts, Sjogren said.
- If the court determines that the jury erred in finding Lafferty guilty, it can send Lafferty back to the 4th District Court in Provo for a new trial.
- If the court rules that Lafferty was unfairly sentenced to death, Lafferty could get a new penalty hearing in the Provo court.
- The appeals court could also send the case back to the U.S. District Court for the hearing on Lafferty's competency and his attorney's ineffectiveness that Lafferty believes he should have had.
- Or the appeals court can conclude, as have the Utah Supreme Court and the U.S. District Court have, that Lafferty received a fair trial and was justly convicted. Lafferty may then appeal his conviction to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That could only be the beginning. "Normally a person has one chance through the system. From the 10th Circuit he could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and that would be the end. However, it is very common in death cases for people to file second, third and fourth petitions raising issues they haven't raised previously."
Witness Hi Fi killer William Andrews. Seventeen years after torturing five people and killing three during an Ogden robbery, Andrews is the nation's longest standing death-row inmate. Andrews made yet another appeal to the 10th Circuit Court Monday, arguing that his trial lawyer was ineffective because he did not seek a second-degree murder conviction, leaving the jury to choose between acquital or a capital homicide conviction.
How much do these appeals cost the state? "I don't have an idea," Sjogren said. "With a case like this, they don't track costs. I know there have been figures tossed around in the Hi Fi case, but I don't know how accurate they are."
GRAPHIC: Judicial process
July 24, 1984, Ron Lafferty and his brother, Dan, slit the throats of Brenda Lafferty, 24, and Erica Lafferty, 15 months.
1. 4th District Court
May 2, 1985: A 4th District Court jury convicts Ron Lafferty of first degree murder. He is scheduled for execution July 2. Lafferty appeals to the Utah Supreme Court.
2. Utah Supreme Court
Jan. 12, 1988: The Utah Supreme Court upholds Lafferety's conviction. He appeals to U.S. District Court.
3. U.S. District Court
Sept 28, 1988: U.S. District Judge Thomas Greene sends Lafferty's case back to the Utah Supreme Court for consideration of evidence not previously available.
4. Utah Supreme Court
May 30, 1989: Utah Supreme Court considers the new evidence and upholds Lafferty's conviction for a second time. Lafferty appeals to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
5. U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals
Jan. 14, 1991: Lafferty's lawyers present his case to the court.
The Court of Appeals can:
-Affirm conviction, probably followed by Lafferty's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
-Send back to the U.S. District Court for evidentiary hearings.
-Reverse the conviction, sending the case back to 4th District court in Provo for retrial. Reverse the death penalty, sending the case back to Provo for new penalty hearing.