Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announces he will no longer seek death penalty

Utah County Attorney Dan Leavitt. Video still courtesy: Vimeo

UTAH COUNTY, Utah, Sept. 8, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — Utah County Attorney David Leavitt announced he will no longer seek the death penalty for cases brought to his office.

Leavitt said in a video: “Today, I announce that as the Utah County attorney, I will no longer seek the death penalty. We continue to aggressively prosecute not only homicide cases but all crimes of violence whatever their type. That is the better route. It is the more responsible route. It will make us safer as a community in every respect.”

He added: “We all know that the violent and dangerous belong in prison, both for our protection and their punishment. Today I will discuss the death penalty and whether it protects us or makes us safer as a community.”

Leavitt referenced two Utah County death penalty cases. Gary Gilmore murdered two young men in July 1976; his jury trial lasted two days, Leavitt said, and at the end of the trial, the jury convicted him and gave him the death penalty. A firing squad executed Gilmore three months after his trial.

Then, eight years later in 1984, Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered their sister-in-law and her 15 month daughter. The jury trial lasted nine days, Leavitt said. The jury convicted them both, and gave Ron Lafferty the death penalty. Dan Lafferty was given life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“Despite receiving the death penalty, Ron Lafferty was never executed,” Leavitt said. “The appeals process was still pending when he died of natural causes 35 years later… during that time his case gained so much notoriety that he was known throughout the world. Dan Lafferty, on the other hand, still resides at the Utah State Prison. He is not famous, in fact, the world does not remember him.”

Leavitt said that shortly after he took office, he had to decide whether to seek the death penalty in a homicide case his office was prosecuting.

“I spent months weighing the decision as the case made its way through the process,” he said. “I knew, at least academically, that deciding to seek the death penalty would require huge taxpayer resources, both for the prosecution and for the defense, not to mention the cost of a decades-long appeals process if the defendant was found guilty.”

Leavitt decided to seek the death penalty, and became the first Utah County attorney since 1984 to do so.

“That decision has required an enormous expenditure of resources both in time and taxpayer dollars,” Leavitt said. “All of what we’ve spent, and more, would be worth it if it would bring prevent another senseless murder from occurring. But it doesn’t, and it won’t.”

He said that assuming the death penalty will curb crime is “simply a lie.”

“The answer to preventing these horrible crimes is in education, and prevention, before they occur,” he said. “No family wants to hear, ‘My child is dead and that man got a long sentence.’ What they want to hear is, ‘My child was never killed.’ What I have witnessed and experienced since deciding to seek the death penalty is that regardless of the crime, seeking the death penalty does not promote our safety. Seeking the death penalty seemed the right decision at the time, but upon further reflection, I am convinced that its costs far outweigh its benefits to the community as a whole.”

The resources Utah County has committed to seeking the death penalty has limited the office’s ability to assist and care for victims of other crimes, Leavitt said.

“The reality in any death penalty case is that even if a jury were to deliver a verdict of death, my 30 years as a criminal justice lawyer convinced me that the death penalty will never be carried out again in this state, nor should it,” Leavitt said. “It’s time to change course. There’s a better route, and we’re going to seek it.”


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