One of two men charged with the Thanksgiving week murder of a Southern Utah State theater arts student confessed to being a witness to the slaying and led authorities to the body, according to an affidavit made public Friday.
The affidavit by Iron County Attorney Scott Burns is part of the case record ordered sealed two weeks ago by Millard County Justice of the Peace Ronald Hare. Information from the affidavit was published Friday by The Spectrum newspaper.Burns confirmed Friday that the affidavit, based on an interview with Lance Conway Wood, one of the two defendants in the case, was used to obtain a search warrant from 5th Circuit Judge Robert Braithwaite.
Wood led Burns and Iron County Sheriff Ira Schoppmann to a juniper tree in a remote area near Interstate 15 in Millard County on Nov. 23. It was there they found the body of Gordon Ray Church, 28, of Delta.
Church's blood-spattered car was found abandoned in West Valley City the same day, a day he was supposed to have be in Delta to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.
Church was last seen alive the evening of Nov. 21 at a Cedar City convenience store, from where he drove Wood, 20, and Michael Anthony Archuleta, 26, toward Salt Lake City.
Wood and Archuleta are held without bail in the Millard County Jail on charges of capital homicide, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault and auto theft. A Jan. 24 preliminary hearing has been set.
Paula Sue Jones of Castle Dale, Archuleta's 22-year-old girlfriend and an SUSC student, was bound over to district court for trial Thursday on charges of obstructing justice by harboring a suspected felon and delaying his apprehension by deception. It was Jones' apartment for which Burns obtained the search warrant Nov. 23.
Wood and Archuleta were paroled from the Utah State-Iron County jail complex in October. They were released in Draper, but both returned to the Cedar City area within the month to be with SUSC girlfriends they had met by telephoning music requests to the college radio station, where one of the women worked as a disk jockey, the newspaper reported.
On Nov. 21, according to the affidavit, the two parolees talked Church into driving them to Salt Lake in his car. When they reached I-15 in an isolated area known as Dog Valley in Millard County, Archuleta pulled a knife and "cut Church on the neck." He then ordered Church to stop and get out.
Wood told Burns that Archuleta sexually abused Church, then bound the victim with tire chains, blindfolded him and ordered him into the trunk of the car.
At that point, Archuleta told Wood he was "going to have to kill this guy. I'm going to have to break his neck," according to the affidavit.
Archuleta took a freeway exit and drove about 100 yards on a dirt road. He pulled Church out of the car and attempted to "wring his neck." Failing at that, Archuleta got a tire iron from the car and struck Church on the head several times, then struck him several more times over the head with a piece of a tire jack, the affidavit said.