Skip to main content

Utah inmate asks to die by firing squad

By Phil Gast, CNN
updated 7:40 PM EST, Thu February 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Michael Archuleta, 49, was convicted in a brutal 1988 killing in Utah
  • Death warrant signed this week allows for death by firing squad
  • Last Utah firing squad execution occurred in June 2010
  • The prisoner has filed several appeals over the years

(CNN) -- A Utah death row inmate, convicted of beating a man with a tire jack and puncturing his liver with an inserted tire iron, has requested that he be allowed to die by firing squad, officials said Thursday.

Fourth District Judge Donald Eyre on Wednesday signed such a death warrant for Michael A. Archuleta, 49.

But the April 5 execution is not likely to happen, considering Archuleta still make can federal appeals.

The last convicted killer to die by firing squad in Utah was Ronnie Lee Gardner, executed in June 2010.

Gardner was only the third person to die by firing squad in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

Assistant Attorney General Tom Brunker said Archuleta, when convicted in 1989, did not request a specific manner of execution, and was not legally entitled to die by firing squad. But the state did not object Wednesday to Archuleta's request, although it reserves the right to ask for lethal injection, Brunker said.

Brunker said there is no question of guilt in the case.

In 1988, according to court records, Archuleta and Lance Wood met Gordon Ray Church, 28, at a convenience store in Cedar City and rode with him to a secluded area. At that point, Church told them he was gay, and Archuleta began to engage in a sexual act on Church, but stopped.

The two then bound Church, put him in the trunk of his car and drove to another location nearly 80 miles away.

The two attached battery jumper cables to Church's testicles in a failed attempt to electrocute him. They inflicted blows to his head with a tire jack and iron, records show. A tire iron was forced inside the college student's rectum and it punctured his liver.

Church's body was found with tire chains wrapped tightly around his neck, records show.

The attackers took Church's wallet and watch, Brunker said.

"They both said the other one did everything," said Brunker. "Archuleta's pants were soaked in the victim's blood. Wood had some blood spots."

Wood received a life sentence.

An attorney for Archuleta did not immediately return a message left by CNN.

But in one of three appeals, Archuleta raised questions about the competence of his previous counsel and alleged errors by the trial court. The Utah Supreme Court turned down that appeal in November 2011.

According to Brunker, after a statutory change in 2004, lethal injection became the only available method of death in Utah for those who did not elect firing squad at sentencing.

A spokesman for the Utah Department of Corrections said four of the eight individuals on death row initially asked for the firing squad option at the time of their sentencing. Seven were sentenced before the 2004 law change.

In Utah, five anonymous marksmen, each with a matching .30-caliber rifle, are used in firing squads.

They stand behind a wall cut with two gunports, said corrections spokesman Steve Gehrke. One of the rifles will hold an "ineffective" round, similar to a blank, which delivers the same recoil as a live round.

The marksmen fire from a distance of 25 feet. The inmate is blindfolded and strapped to a chair with a target pinned to his chest.

CNN's Shawn Nottingham contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT