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Court rejects notorious killer Ron Lafferty’s latest appeal, moving him closer to firing squad execution

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal appeals court has rejected the latest appeal by notorious killer Ron Lafferty, moving him much closer to execution.

In a unanimous ruling, the three judges from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to hear Lafferty's case.

"Lafferty has failed to make this showing with respect to any of the four claims on which he seeks a COA [certificate of appealability]," Judge Mary Beck Briscoe wrote.

Based on the 10th Circuit's rejection and what happens next, Lafferty has few options left. He can ask the judges to reconsider, or ask the entire circuit court to hear his appeal. He can also seek a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

But Assistant Utah Solicitor General Andrew Peterson said the ruling effective ends Lafferty's federal appeals. Barring the U.S. Supreme Court hearing his case, Lafferty is now months away from a potential firing squad.

"At this point, there’s no reason we know that we wouldn’t seek an execution," Peterson told FOX 13.

There is still a chance that the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole would hold a commutation hearing. (The governor does not have the power in Utah to pardon or commute a sentence.)

"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. Here, the court relied on procedural technicalities to deny Mr. Lafferty a complete appellate review of his case," Dale Baich, Lafferty's defense attorney, told FOX 13. "We are carefully reviewing the decision and going forward, we will exercise all state and federal legal options."

Lafferty, 77, has elected to die by firing squad.

The case is infamous in Utah history. Ron Lafferty and his brother, Dan, were convicted of slitting the throats of their sister-in-law, Brenda, and her infant daughter, Erica, back in 1984. Lafferty, who had been excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, formed a group called the "School of the Prophets" and claimed to have received revelations from God.

The Laffertys claimed to have been commanded by God to kill Brenda and Erica Lafferty. He was sentenced to death; Dan Lafferty is serving a life sentence in the Utah State Prison.

The Lafferty brothers' story was highlighted in the popular book "Under the Banner of Heaven."

Ron Lafferty's appeals have raised questions about his mental competency. In past court filings, lawyers have argued about his mental state and Lafferty has claimed to have been haunted by "ghosts."

A mugshot for Ron Lafferty. Photo courtesy Utah Department of Corrections.

"Mr. Lafferty believes that the Utah State Prison is occupied by spirit beings which are conducting surveillance on him for the LDS Church and for use against him in his legal proceedings," attorneys wrote. "Generally, Mr. Lafferty believes these spirits are inhabiting the bodies of guards and other prisoners."

On Tuesday morning, the Utah Dept. of Corrections provided FOX 13 with an updated photo of Lafferty. In it, he appears to be lying in a hospital bed with a sore on his head. The agency would not comment on his medical status except to say he remains housed at the Utah State Prison.

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