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Lafferty's day in court kept secret

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) - A high profile death row inmate will get private attention from a judge. And the public may never know why his mental state will remain a secret.
SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 Utah) – A federal judge may release transcripts of Ron Lafferty’s competency evaluation hearing.
Lafferty was in federal court Thursday and again Friday to determine if he will be evaluated.
Lafferty was convicted in 1985 of murdering his sister-in-law and her daughter in their Utah County home. A state jury convicted and sentenced him to death.
But the case was overturned. A second jury convicted him again and the Utah Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Now Lafferty is appealing through the federal court system.

Late Wednesday federal Judge Dee Benson ruled the media's request to attend the closed door hearing was too late. He claimed the media has had four years to object.

“The judge ruled that our motion to open up the hearing was untimely,” says Jeff Hunt, a media attorney.

The federal court listed the hearing as open to the public as late as Monday. But Judge Benson claimed it was a clerical error.
Hunt says the judge may later rule whether the transcripts of the hearing could be released.

Ron Lafferty's been on death row for nearly 30 years. He's now 72 years old.
His brother Dan who was sentenced to life in prison without parole claimed the murders were an order from God. Their story was later told in the book: “Under The Banner of Heaven.”

In this latest round of court motions, Lafferty’s attorney claims that he doesn’t understand and can’t offer information about the case.

“The current defense attorneys have an obligation to look into his competency, to look into where he is now and how best to treat him going forward," says trial attorney Greg Skordas.

During the state trial, Lafferty was ruled competent in an open court. But now, a federal judge doesn't want the public in his courtroom.

Hunt argued that the case involving Brian David Mitchell should have been an indicator of the need for transparency. Mitchell was convicted in federal court of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart. Mitchell was found competent by a different federal judge. That hearing was public.

“In our view it was a good template for how it should be handled, openly so the public can understand that when a criminal defendant puts his mental issue in a case he's not entitled to a private adjudication of that issue,” says Hunt.

But Judge Benson didn’t see it that way. Lafferty privacy may be temporary

“It's the defense looking back saying there are things happening now just give us a chance to evaluate those, to keep those confidential at this point and to move forward and decide later if we can open those up,” says Skordas.

The judge is expected to take several weeks before ruling whether Lafferty needs a competency evaluation.
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