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Jury Convicts Man In Cult Slayings

January 10, 1985 GMT

PROVO, Utah (AP) _ A jury on Thursday convicted a cult leader on murder charges in the throat slashings of his sister-in-law and her 15-month-old daughter, killings the defendant said stemmed from a divine revelation.

The jury deliberated more than eight hours Wednesday and Thursday before finding Dan Lafferty, 36, guilty of two counts each of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and aggravated burglary.

District Judge J. Robert Bullock set a penalty hearing for Friday in which the prosecution is seeking death by lethal injection or firing squad.

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Lafferty and his brother Ron were charged in the murders of Brenda Wright Lafferty, 24, and her daughter Erica, who were found with their throats slashed in their duplex in American Fork on July 24.

Ron Lafferty, 43, had been scheduled to stand trial with his brother, but his trial was postponed after he apparently tried to hang himself in his jail cell Dec. 31.

Dan Lafferty, who like his brother is an excommunicated Mormon, showed no reaction when the verdicts were read.

Lafferty, acting as his own attorney, told the jury in a rambling, 20- minute closing argument Wednesday the prosecution had not proved that a crime had been commmitted.

″I believe that a revelation has been received. I am not a criminal,″ he said.

But prosecutor Wayne Watson described Lafferty as a ″cold-blooded murderer, the worst of all kinds, the kind that can walk up to a baby’s crib while that baby is screaming, ‘Mommy 3/8 Mommy 3/8 Mommy 3/8’ and slit her throat.″

Lafferty, who neither admitted nor denied taking part in the slayings, said: ″I know it’s not a pretty picture. ... But when the Lord’s kingdom is built up, then the adversary’s kingdom must be torn down. All the proud will be destroyed. All those who joined with the wicked ... will be run through.″

Watson said the case was about revenge rather than religion.

The motive, Watson said, was Brenda’s opposition to her husband’s participation in the activities of the ″School of the Prophets″ religious sect, whose prophet was said to be Ron Lafferty.

Alan Lafferty, the victims’ husband and father, was the only one of six brothers who did not belong to the group, testimony showed.

Watson said a pamphlet called ″The Peacemaker,″ in which he said the other brothers believed, says husbands have the right to divorce their wives if their spouses are not subservient.

The pamphlet also says that children of a marriage in which women are not subservient ″shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord to the 10th generation.″

Watson said that assertion was the motive for killing the baby, coupled with the ″revelation″ calling for their death.

But Lafferty said his conscience was clear.

″I am not in this position because I have chosen to be,″ he said. ″I have made a commitment to myself to try and do what’s right. Because of that, I do have a clear conscience.″

The revelation, which Dan Lafferty said was received by his brother Ron, called for removal of Brenda and Erica Lafferty and two other people who were not hurt.

″We are involved in a day when the Lord has a strange work to do and it’s been pretty strange, if you ask me,″ Lafferty told the jurors. ″I don’t intend to know what his purposes are.″

During testimony earlier this week, Charles Carnes of Belen, N.M., said he waited in a car while Dan Lafferty forced his way into Brenda Lafferty’s house.

Carnes said during the killings, he could see the walls of the Lafferty home vibrate and hear the baby crying.

Lafferty did not cross-examine Carnes, who along with Ricky Martin Knapp, 24, of Wichita, Kan., originally faced the same murder charges in the case, but agreed to testify for the state and pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

The method of execution in Utah is up to the condemned man. The only other person executed in the state since 1976 was Gary Gilmore, the first person executed in the nation since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed states to restore the death penalty that year. Gilmore died by firing squad.