Condemned killer Michael Anthony Archuleta has won a new hearing on a petition challenging his conviction for the 1989 torture murder of a Southern Utah University student.
In a brief opinion released Friday afternoon, the Utah Supreme Court reversed a lower court's dismissal of Archuleta's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and sent the matter back for another hearing.Fourth District Judge Lynn W. Davis ruled last year that the issues raised by Archuleta were procedurally barred because they were not raised on direct appeal.
Archuleta's lawyers challenged Davis' decision in February, arguing state law makes an exception when the contested issues were not raised on direct appeal because of "ineffective assistance of counsel."
In other words, if Archuleta's attorney was to blame for not raising the points at trial and on direct appeal, Archuleta is entitled to do so now. Besides the issue of ineffective counsel, Archuleta is challenging his conviction on grounds of numerous and substantive trial errors.
Archuleta and Lance Wood were convicted of killing Gordon Ray Church, 28, a student they met in Cedar City on Nov. 22, 1988. According to trial testimony, Church agreed to drive them to Salt Lake City.
The two men took Church to a nearby canyon, where they beat him, slashed his throat, bound him with chains and stuffed him into the trunk of his car. They then drove him to a remote area of Millard County and continued to torture and sexually abuse him.
Archuleta, 34, was convicted of capital homicide and received a death sentence. Wood, 30, was also convicted of the crime but was sentenced to life in prison.
Karen A. Chaney, one of the lawyers handling Archuleta's appeals, said Friday's Supreme Court ruling gives the condemned man a hearing on the issues of trial error.
"If the Supreme Court had not reversed the trial court, we would not have had the issues heard in state court," Chaney said. "This allows us to go back to court and argue those issues on their merits."