'Under the Banner of Heaven': How did Ron Lafferty die? Utah death-row inmate had strong polygamist views

'Under the Banner of Heaven,' a new Andrew Garfield true-crime drama television miniseries, follows the investigation into Ron's victims


                            'Under the Banner of Heaven': How did Ron Lafferty die? Utah death-row inmate had strong polygamist views
Ron Lafferty (left) and his brother, Dan Lafferty (YouTube/AP)
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On November 11, 2019, Ron Lafferty, who spent 34 years on Utah's death row for the 1984 murders of his sister-in-law and her young daughter, died at the Utah State Prison. In a case made prominent by the book 'Under the Banner of Heaven', the Utah death-row inmate murdered because of his strong polygamist views.

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Dan and Ron Lafferty arrived at their brother's residence in American Fork, Utah, on a hot July day in 1984 with a mission in mind. They broke into the flat, claiming to be motivated by God's will, and brutally murdered their sister-in-law Brenda Lafferty and their 15-month-old niece Erica. The brothers believed for a long time that they were simply following divine orders. However, as their trial progressed, it became evident that Dan and Ron Lafferty were motivated by a variety of factors, including their Mormon fundamentalism and a desire for vengeance. Their narrative is now the subject of an FX TV series starring Daisy Edgar-Jones and Andrew Garfield, based on Jon Krakauer's 2003 book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith. The true narrative of Dan and Ron Lafferty's heinous actions is told here.

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Dan and Ron Lafferty grew up in Payson, Utah, with two sisters, four brothers, and their parents, Claudine and Warren, as members of the Mormon faith. Warren was prone to rage outbursts, whereas Claudine was meek. He slapped his wife and once killed the family dog in front of his kids. Warren was also outlandish in other ways. He waited until one of his daughter's appendix ruptured before agreeing to take her to the hospital because he distrusted conventional treatment. When one of his kids unintentionally shot himself in the stomach with an arrow, Warren stopped him from seeking medical care until the next day, citing the Sabbath. Notwithstanding this, Dan Lafferty had wonderful memories of his father. Dan regarded Warren as a "superb role model" who based their lives around family and church, according to Jon Krakauer's profile of the murder, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, published in 2003.

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Dan grew particularly close to his older brother, Ron, within their family. They both had short tempers, and escalating problems with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Dan grew to believe that the abandonment of polygamy by the mainstream Mormon church was a folly. Ron eventually came to accept Dan's point of view, prompting his wife to leave him and relocate to Florida with their six children. By the 1980s, Dan and Ron Lafferty, who had been excommunicated from the church, had joined the School of Prophets, a polygamist cult.

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The actual crime

After being covered in Jon Krakauer's 2003 book about extremist offshoots of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Lafferty's case became well-known. Ron and his brother Dan, who was sentenced to life in prison, carried out the murders. Because of Brenda Lafferty's opposition to his fundamentalist belief in polygamy, Ron Lafferty said he had gotten a revelation from God to kill her and her 15-month-old child, Erica. The murders took place roughly 30 miles south of Salt Lake City in American Fork, Utah. Brenda Lafferty was assaulted with a vacuum cleaner cord and strangled. After their necks were slit, she and Erica perished. In 1985, a jury convicted Ron Lafferty guilty and condemned him to death.

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Dan Lafferty and Brenda Lafferty, along with her daughter Erica (Youtube/Fox 13 News Utah)

How did Ron Lafferty die?

On November 11, 2019, Ron Lafferty, whose full name was Ronald Watson Lafferty, died of natural causes at the Draper facility. Even though he had been on death row for decades, no execution date had been set – but one had been scheduled after he lost his last federal appeal in August 2019. Daniel Charles Lafferty, who assisted in the murders, is serving a life sentence in a different section of the Draper jail.

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