Wednesday, December 28, 2016
He's Not Crazy, Judge, He's Just Religious.
Where is the line between religious devotion and insanity? Believe it or not, that's before the courts now in a death penalty case.
In his book Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, journalist Jon Krakauer chronicled the case of Utah v. Lafferty, which addressed the 1984 killings of a woman and a child by two Mormon fundamentalists, Ron and Dan Lafferty. Over the last several decades, the question of Ron Lafferty’s mental health has played a key role in the case, as both sides have battled over his competency to stand trial.
The defense has argued that Ron is mentally ill and therefore should not be put to death. In interviews, Ron has claimed to be a prophet, endorsed hearing the voice of Christ, and expressed fears about “an evil homosexual spirit trying to invade his body through his anus.” Psychiatric experts have testified that Ron appeared to suffer from a psychotic illness, such as schizoaffective disorder.
The prosecution has sought to uphold his competency to stand trial, relating his bizarre ideas to religious practices worldwide. In the words of Dr. Noel Gardner, a psychiatrist who testified for the prosecution, “the majority of people in our country believe in God. Most people in our country say they pray to God. It’s a common experience. And while the labels that Mr. Lafferty uses are certainly unusual, the thought forms themselves are really very common…to all of us.”
A local news column from 2013 summed up the complexities of this ongoing case—“Where is the line between faith and delusion? Between malice and mental illness?”