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High-profile murder victims' family urges Utah legislature to abolish the death penalty

Posted at 4:47 PM, Sep 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-15 19:13:20-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Sharon Wright Weeks said she was fully supportive of the death penalty when it was imposed on one of her sister's killers, Ron Lafferty.

But as the years went by and the execution was not carried out, she began to question it.

"When you pass that execution date that’s given during the trial, you start to wonder: what is this?" Weeks said in an interview with FOX 13 on Wednesday. "We’re promised swift justice."

Weeks' sister, Brenda Lafferty, and niece, Erica, were killed in a twisted case involving religious fundamentalism. They were murdered inside their American Fork home in 1984 by Ron Lafferty and his brother, Dan. The two carried out the murders claiming they were commanded by God to do it. When the trials were over, Dan Lafferty was sentenced to life in prison and Ron Lafferty was given a death sentence.

"It would have been really nice to have spent a good five years mourning the loss of my sister instead of worrying about the men, especially one, who took her life," Weeks said. "And then I had to continue to worry about that."

Ron Lafferty died in 2019 of natural causes — still on death row waiting to be executed. He was in the middle of decades of federal and state appeals over his conviction and sentence.

Weeks said it was then she finally felt some peace, after 37 years of waiting. The sensational nature of the crime and the media attention also took its toll on her family. She noted that hardly anyone talks about Dan Lafferty, but would bring up the case whenever something happened with Ron's appeals.

"Putting them in prison and never speaking their name again would be very healing," Weeks said.

On Wednesday, Weeks met with lawmakers on Utah's Capitol Hill to urge them to support a bill introduced that will repeal the death penalty and replace it with a 45-to-life sentence. She said with decades of appeals, the death penalty doesn't accomplish what people think it does.

Weeks said other members of her family also now oppose the death penalty.

"Is it worth it to put Utah families through that process just to have the term 'the death penalty?'" she asked. "It is a life sentence without the possibility of parole, I guess you could say that. It’s nothing more."

The bill is gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. FOX 13 reported earlier this week that Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill was building a coalition of prosecutors to persuade the legislature to vote for the bill.

Weeks said she viewed passage of a death penalty repeal as a "gift" to the families of other murder victims by letting them grieve and move on without having to relive a horrible crime repeatedly and anxiously worry about their loved ones' killer.

"I would like to give them a gift that they won’t even understand or know they’ll be getting from me," she said. "My efforts, as somebody who’s been through it, is the gift of freedom."