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State won't oppose death by firing squad in Archuleta case

Published: Thursday, Feb. 9 2012 2:47 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah death row inmate Michael Archuleta has chosen the firing squad to carry out his April 5 death sentence for a 1988 murder.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff says the state won’t oppose it.

Archuleta was sentenced to death for the Nov. 22, 1988, murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Ray Church, 28.

At his original conviction he chose lethal injection, but changed his mind and opted for the firing squad in 1994. Even though the state did away with the firing squad in 2004, Shurtleff says Archuleta made his choice before the law changed, so it will stand.

“The courts have held that the method of execution is the choice, if there is a choice … of the condemned person,” Shurtleff said.

Archuleta can change his mind and say he no longer wants the firing squad, but if he insists on the firing squad, Shurtleff says the state won’t oppose it and that’s how he’d be executed.

There are four other death row inmates who opted for the firing squad before the law changed.

The firing squad is comprised of five volunteer, POST-certified officers. Each carries a .30-caliber rifle. Four of the rifles are loaded with live rounds, the other with a blank. It gives shooters a way to rationalize and cope with the assignment. Their identities are kept anonymous — partly for their privacy, and also for their protection.

Church offered Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood, who were both on a 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 him 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.

Convicted killer Ronnie Lee Gardner was the last person executed in Utah by firing squad. Gardner had been on Utah's death row since October 1985 and was executed on June 18, 2010. He was the third person executed by firing squad in Utah — or anywhere else in the U.S. — since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

E-mail: rjeppesen@desnews.com

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