A death row inmate in Utah who killed his sister-in-law and her child could be the first American to be executed by firing squad in nearly a decade.
Ron Lafferty, who featured in the popular book Under the Banner of Heaven because of the murders he committed in 1984, lost his latest appeal on Monday (August 12).
Because of this latest legal setback, Lafferty could be executed as soon as next year according to Andrew Peterson, assistant solicitor general at the Utah attorney general’s office.
Lafferty chose the method of firing squad decades ago when he was sentenced to death, before Utah changed the law to ensure it could only be used as a backup method if lethal injection drugs aren’t available.
As reported by the Associated Press, Lafferty was convicted for the killings of his sister-in-law and her baby daughter more than 30 years ago, after he claimed to get a revelation from God to murder them because of her resistance to his fundamentalist beliefs in polygamy. He carried out the murders with his brother, Dan.
The case became known nationwide when it was included in Jon Krakauer’s 2003 book about the two brothers, who admitted to the crime and even justified it, claiming they were following God-given orders.
Lafferty’s lawyer, Dale Baich, said in a statement provided to the Associated Press that he will exhaust all options to challenge the ruling, and will most likely ask the US Supreme Court to review his client’s case.
The ruling yesterday by the 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver backed lower-court judges in their previous rejections of Lafferty’s appeals.
Baich expressed disappointment that the court relied on what he described as ‘procedural technicalities’ to deny Lafferty a complete review of his case.
The attorney continued:
When the most severe penalty a state can impose is at stake, we look to the courts to be the safety net to ensure that the full protections allowed by the constitution have been met.
Andrew Peterson, the prosecutor, said he’s pleased the countless appeals have nearly run their course, adding he considers it a ‘long shot’ that the US Supreme Court would take the case.
The last time a firing squad was used in the US was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed – also in Utah – for the 1984 murder of an attorney during a failed courthouse escape.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).