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Utah Supreme Court rejects death penalty appeal in 1988 torture slaying

Posted at 10:26 AM, Aug 22, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has rejected an appeal by death-row inmate Michael Anthony Archuleta.

In a unanimous decision, the state's top court denied Archuleta's claims that he cannot be executed because he has an intellectual disability. It also rejected his other claims as too late.

Archuleta is facing execution for the 1988 torture, rape and murder of Southern Utah State College student Gordon Ray Church. Archuleta and Lance Wood were accused of driving Church to a remote location in Millard County where they used a car battery to shock him, raped him with a tire iron and beat him to death. Church's body was found in a shallow grave. Trial testimony revealed they attacked Church after he told them he was gay.

Wood was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Archuleta was sentenced to death in 1989. Since then, the case has been mired in appeals. The Utah Supreme Court rejected the latest claims (as it has rejected other appeals by Archuleta's attorneys).

"We conclude that no provision of the [Post Conviction Remedies Act] applies to Archuleta’s Atkins claim," Justice Paige Petersen wrote, referencing a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said intellectually disabled persons cannot be executed.

"Thus, the PCRA does not provide an avenue of relief for Archuleta’s Atkins claim and its procedural bars do not apply. With respect to his twelve additional claims, we determine they are each procedurally barred under the PCRA."

The Utah Attorney General's Office argued that this was a stall tactic by Archuleta to avoid execution. Even with this latest ruling, Archuleta still has death penalty appeals pending in federal court.

Archuleta is slated to die by firing squad. The Utah Department of Corrections has told FOX 13 it does not have the drugs necessary to carry out a lethal injection and under the law, that makes firing squad the default method of execution.

Read the ruling here