Court • Attorneys say death is unlikely to happen in April because appeal options remain.
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Spanish Fork • A judge on Wednesday signed a death warrant for Michael Anthony Archuleta, for now at least setting the course for his execution by firing squad on April 5.
The signing by 4th District Judge Donald Eyre, however, is the third time a judge has set an execution date for Archuleta, 49, who has been on Utah's death row since being convicted in December 1989.
Archuleta's family, who was at the hearing, wept as the judge assigned the date.
"For a while you kind of just go with the flow but when things like this happen, it all comes back and opens up all the wounds. It's hard,"said Archuleta's mother, Stella Archuleta after the hearing, adding that her son has a lot of regrets. "It doesn't just affect him and the victim's parents, it affects everyone who cares about him."
Archuleta's attorney, James Slavens said his client still has appeal options. While the state appeals have all been exhausted, he has yet to begun his federal review, Slavens said.
After the hearing Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker appeared to echo Slavens, saying he didn't think it was likely that Archuleta's execution will proceed in April.
On Nov. 21, 1988, then-parolees Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood drove Gordon Ray Church a 28-year-old Southern Utah State College theater student to a remote location in Millard County. They attached jumper cables to Church's testicles, used the car battery to shock him, raped him with a tire iron, beat him with a car jack and buried him in a shallow grave.
In separate trials, Archuleta and Wood each were convicted of capital murder. Wood was sentenced to life in prison. Archuleta was sentenced to death.
Archuleta's conviction has been upheld by the Utah Supreme Court. A second appeal claiming his trial attorneys and first set of appeal lawyers were ineffective also was rejected.
In May the death row inmate asked his case be reopened, claiming his former attorneys were ineffective.
Slavens argued at the time that Archuleta deserved a new trial, or at least a new penalty phase, in light of a 2009 statement from Archuleta's co-defendant, in which he took primary responsibility for the brutal 1988 murder.
Wood's statement to Slavens in 2009, was a confession given "without hesitation," and one that could have swayed a jury to give Archuleta a life sentence rather than death, Slavens argued.
Slavens also said the affidavit from Wood was something Archuleta's previous attorneys could have easily procured during a 2002 appeal. The high court ultimately affirmed the conviction.
Archuleta's family said he didn't get a fair trial. "The other person isn't on death row," said Alaina Roundy, Archuleta's daughter. "They were both a part of it. Why should Mike be executed and not the other?"
Roundy, now 33, was a child when her father went to prison. Wednesday was the first time she had seen him in person since she was 16.
"That was hard,"Roundy said of seeing her father in the courtroom. "I don't think he was expecting to see me here. He turned around and saw me and just about lost it."
Brunker said the state would not oppose Archuleta's choice to die by firing squad, a request he made when a judge signed a death warrant in 1994. But the state may raise an objection to Archuleta's request at a later date, Brunker added.
Utah lawmakers in 2004 abandoned the firing squad as a method of execution, but allowed some inmates to be grandfathered in. Archuleta, however, was not grandfathered in because at his original sentencing in 1989 he chose to die by lethal injection.
Death row inmates Ralph Leroy Menzies, Taberon Dave Honie, Troy Michael Kell and Ronald Watson Lafferty have all chosen firing squad.
Since the United States Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, Utah has executed three men by firing squad: Gary Gilmore in 1977; John Albert Taylor in 1996; and Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010.