The Utah attorney general's office will hand over a complete transcript of condemned murderer Ron Lafferty's 1985 trial to a Utah federal judge by Friday to expedite what government attorneys call "Lafferty's inevitable execution."
Sandra Sjogren, assistant Utah attorney general, labeled a defense request by Lafferty's attorney, Michael Esplin, to have a full record of all court meetings surrounding Lafferty's murder trial provided to a federal judge "an 11th-hour stalling technique."A federal judge granted a stay of execution Monday as a result of the defense motion.
"The judge is trying to be completely fair and make sure everything is before him before he rules.
"I am disturbed, however, the argument of an incomplete record was brought up only a few days before the execution date. If the issue is relevant now, it should have been relevant months ago when the case went before the Utah Supreme Court," Sjogren told the Deseret News.
The defense strategy postpones an execution by at least 40 days. After Esplin receives the completed transcript, he has 30 days to review it. U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Greene will then decide if further hearings regarding Lafferty's appeals should be heard.
"At this point, since we have passed the execution date, we'll have to go back and seek a new death warrant in district court - assuming his appeals are not granted. A new execution date could not be sooner than 30 days after another death warrant is issued," Sjogren said.
Lafferty, 46, was sentenced to die by firing squad Friday for the July 24, 1984, throat-slashing murders of his sister-in-law, Brenda Wright Lafferty, and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, in American Fork.
Lafferty and his brother, Dan, were convicted of the same brutal crimes. However, Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison.
At the beginning of the year, Lafferty said he wanted to be executed. He abruptly changed his mind last month.
In arguments Monday before Greene, Esplin contended that the Utah Supreme Court did not fully review the Lafferty case because the court transcript was incomplete. The defense attorney argued that at least 10 conferences held in the 4th District judge's chambers were not transcribed even though a court reporter took notes.
These sessions could contain vital information regarding the primary area of Esplin's appeal: Lafferty's incompetence to stand trial.
Esplin contends that Lafferty suffered from a mental illness or defect that prevented him from consulting with his trial attorney at that time, Richard Johnson, with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.
As his attorney argued his case Monday, Lafferty leaned his head on his chair and stared at the ceiling.
Earlier this year, the Utah Supreme Court upheld Lafferty's murder conviction.
During Monday's hearing, Sjogren told the judge that the information contained in the chamber hearings is not relevant to Lafferty's appeal. She further questioned Esplin's failure to earlier discover the inadequacy in records.
"He's had since May 1985 to determine inadequacy," she complained to the judge.
But pointing to the gravity of a death-penalty appeal, Greene said he was "very troubled" by the gaps in the transcribed record.
"I need to see the entire record in order to make a judgment if there are any irregularities that require further action by this court.
"We live in a system of justice that requires fairness. I cannot review what may be a fragmented record," said Greene.
The judge will schedule a hearing on whether the transcript omissions are serious enough to have affected the Utah Supreme Court's rejection of Lafferty's appeal. If he rules the omissions are significant, then he will set a hearing on the merits of the federal appeal.