Death warrant signed for 1988 Archuleta murder, requests firing squad

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SPANISH FORK — An execution warrant has been signed and an execution date set for Utah death row inmate Michael Anthony Archuleta.

Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre signed the warrant Wednesday, after determining that the man "has exhausted his right of appeal," according to court records. The date was set for April 5.

But the likelihood of an April execution is slim.

"It's not final if he chooses to proceed in federal court," said Tom Brunker, who heads the capital appeals division in the Utah Attorney General's Office. A federal appeals process — which can take many years — has not even begun in Archuleta's case.

Archuleta, 49, has requested to die by firing squad.

He was sentenced to death in connection with the Nov. 22, 1988, murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Ray Church, 28. Church offered Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood, who were both on parole, a ride after meeting the pair at a gas station.

After driving into a nearby canyon, the two men had Church exit the vehicle on the premise of robbing him, but instead began to severely beat and torture the man before raping him with a tire iron and burying him in a shallow grave.

Wood told his parole officer and led investigators to the body the next day. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Archuleta's most recent appeal — on the grounds that he had ineffective assistance of counsel in both his trial and subsequent appeals — was rejected by the Utah Supreme Court in November 2011.

Archuleta's mother, Stella, said Wednesday's hearing was "really, really hard." She said her son ruined his life with drugs and alcohol.

"Choices people make have an effect on everybody you know," she said. "He knows that."

Still, the warrant doesn't mean a sure execution. Tom Brunker, who heads the capital appeals division in the Utah Attorney General's Office, said Archuleta's case hasn't been reviewed in federal court and so the man still has the option of asking a federal judge for a stay on the warrant.

"We're glad it's moving forward," Brunker said of the case. "It's taken too long. We'll continue to push forward as much as we can."

Contributing: Mike Anderson

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