How is it going to be prejudicial when the judge has seen it already? The judge is deciding his habeas petition. It's not like this is going to a jury, so there is no risk of prejudice. —Salt Lake media attorney Jeff Hunt
SALT LAKE CITY — Lawyers for Utah's longest-standing death row inmate want to keep parts of a mental health evaluation secret because they say he made incriminating statements.
Psychiatrist Noel Gardner "improperly coaxed" statements from Ron Lafferty that were "highly inflammatory, prejudicial and incriminating" during a March 2012 interview, according to a memorandum filed in federal court Friday.
The remarks are not relevant to whether Lafferty is competent to help his legal counsel in seeking a federal review of his conviction and death sentence, attorney Therese Day wrote.
The memorandum does not identify the nature of the statements but court documents suggest they're related to his role in the brutal killing of his sister-in-law Brenda Wright Lafferty and her 15-month-old daughter, Erica, in 1984.
Salt Lake media attorney Jeff Hunt said he would probably oppose Lafferty's request to keep the information from the public.
"How is it going to be prejudicial when the judge has seen it already?" he said Friday. "The judge is deciding his habeas petition. It's not like this is going to a jury, so there is no risk of prejudice."
Hunt petitioned the court last month on behalf of the Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune and Society of Professional Journalists to open dozens of sealed documents about Lafferty's mental state. He argued that because Lafferty made competence an issue, the court's decision is a matter of legitimate public interest and scrutiny.
Lafferty's federal public defenders contend he does not have a rational and factual understanding of the court proceedings. Assistant attorney general Tom Brunker disagrees.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson heard two days of testimony on the issue last month but has yet to make a ruling.
Gardner testified that Lafferty has a narcissistic personality and extreme religious and political views but isn't delusional or psychotic. Psychiatrist Michael First testified that a lack of oxygen to Lafferty's brain when he hung himself in December 1984 — five months after the killing — caused cognitive and psychotic disorders.
Benson also must decide whether to open at least 42 sealed documents involving the death row inmate going back four years.
Lafferty's attorneys said in the court memorandum that they don't oppose opening the records except those where they say he made statements that impact his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Day contends Gardner's "intentional delving" and inclusion of the statements in his report run counter to American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law guidelines, which say "psychiatrists should not reveal incriminating information about what the defendant said about the alleged offense."
Claiming God directed them, Lafferty and his brother Dan Lafferty slashed the throats of their sister-in-law and her daughter on July 24, 1984. Juries in separate trials convicted both. Dan Lafferty received a life sentence; Ron Lafferty the death penalty.
A federal appeals court overturned Ron Lafferty's conviction in 1991 because the judge used the wrong standard to determine his mental competency. Found competent to stand trial again in 1996, a jury convicted him again and the judge sentenced him to die. Lafferty chose execution by firing squad.
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