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Firing squad execution halted for Utah inmate

By Josh Loftin

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 3 2012 1:50 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A death row inmate who was set to die this week by firing squad has received a reprieve and is beginning a federal appeals process, state attorneys said Tuesday.

Michael Anthony Archuleta, 50, was convicted in 1989 in the murder of a Southern Utah University student.

A federal hearing has yet to be scheduled in the case, and Archuleta's attorneys haven't filed anything beyond the requested stay of execution.

U.S. District Court Judge Tena Campbell granted the stay last month.

Five previous state court appeals have been rejected, the latest in November. Utah Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said the state did not contest the stay of execution issued by the federal court.

Archuleta had been set to die by firing squad on Thursday, a method he chose over lethal injection.

Archuleta and co-defendant Lance Conway Wood were convicted in separate trials in 1989 of the murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Church.

The three men met in a Cedar City convenience store on Nov. 22, 1988, then went to nearby Cedar Canyon where Church was raped and beaten. Archuleta and Wood then drove Church, 28, to another location, where Church was tortured and beaten to death.

Archuleta was sentenced to die. Wood received life in prison.

In Archuleta's last state appeal, attorney James Slavens argued that the convicted man deserved a new trial because Wood had taken primary responsibility for the crime in a 2009 affidavit. Slavens said the confession could have swayed a jury to impose a life sentence in Archuleta's case, rather than the death penalty.

The appeals court, however, sided with state prosecutors who said Wood's 2009 statement wasn't a confession that he was solely responsible for the crime.

Archuleta is one of nine men on Utah's death row.

The state last held an execution in June 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was killed by firing squad for the 1985 shooting death of a Salt Lake City attorney during a botched escape attempt at a courthouse. It was the first time in 14 years that an American inmate was executed by firing squad, and the third in the U.S. since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Information from: KSL-TV, http://www.ksl.com/

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