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Death-row inmate appeals conviction for killing Cedar City student

Published December 8, 2012 8:47 pm

Crime • He and another man tortured and killed a southern Utah college student in 1988.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Michael Anthony Archuleta is taking the long fight to overturn his capital murder conviction, which condemns him to death, to federal court.

He's appealed five times in state court, all of them rejected. With those district court options exhausted, Archuleta turns now to a federal appeal, filing an 182-page petition Thursday in the U.S. District Court in Utah to overturn the conviction on Constitutional grounds.

Archuleta's attorneys argue 16 reasons in the petition why their client's death penalty is unconstitutional, including a deficient defense and that cumulative errors in the trial prevented him from having a fair day in court. The petition also claims that he may meet Utah criteria for mental retardation, which would exempt him from execution.

They also argue that Archuleta's execution would be cruel and unusual punishment after he's already spent about 23 years on death row.

Archuleta, 50, has been on Utah's death row since his December 1989 conviction. 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.

Utah abandoned the firing squad in 2004 as a method of execution, but allowed some inmates to be grandfathered in. Archuleta, however, chose lethal injection in his original sentencing.

A Utah judge signed an execution warrant for Archuleta in February after his fifth appeal in state court had been rejected. But prosecutors at the time said they doubted the execution would go forward as scheduled because Archuleta had never filed a habeas corpus petition in federal court.

As expected, his scheduled April 5 execution date was canceled, with no objection from the prosecution, while the condemned killer pursued his federal court appeal.

mmcfall@sltrib.com