A 4th District Court jury deliberated eight hours Friday before finding Michael Anthony Archuleta guilty of capital homicide in the torture slaying of Gordon Ray Church.
Prosecutors and the victim's family welcomed the verdict, which was reached at 5:10 p.m. Members of Archuleta's family, visibly upset, hurried from the courtroom after the verdict was read."The verdict is the right one under the evidence," said Millard County Attorney Warren Peterson. "The jury did a responsible job. They were careful and they heard what was presented. They made the decision that the evidence allowed."
Defense attorney Michael Esplin said he would reserve comment until after the sentencing hearing, which Judge George E. Ballif set for Wednesday at 9 a.m. Archuleta will receive either the death penalty or life in prison.
"We're somewhat relieved that one of the parts of this terrible, horrible tragedy in our lives is complete," said the victim's father, David G. Church. "We believe the correct verdict was achieved."
Church said the jury's verdict, however, won't ease his family's painful loss.
"We've just had to try to get through it," he said, adding that he would not wish on anyone the experience of sitting through a murder trial.
"It's terribly hard. We all loved Gordon very much."
The victim's body - gagged, naked from the waist down and draped in tire chains - was found Nov. 23, 1988, north of Cove Fort in an area known as Dog Valley, Millard County.
Trial evidence showed that Church had suffered serious blows to the head, that his left arm and jaw had been broken, his neck cut, his liver stabbed and that he had been sexually assaulted with battery jumper cables and a tire iron.
In reaching the verdict, the seven-man, five-woman jury found that Church's death was caused while the defendant was "engaged as a party in the commission of" kidnapping, aggravated kidnapping and object rape. The jury also found that the murder was committed in an "especially heinous, atrocious, cruel or exceptionally depraved manner."
Archuleta, who took the stand this week in his own defense, showed no emotion as the verdict was read. The defendant will be held in the Utah County Jail until sentencing.
While on the witness stand, Archuleta, 27, claimed that co-defendant Lance Conway Wood had killed Church. Wood, 21, will be tried in February.
"They (jurors) made their decision in light of his testimony, and I think they knew what they were doing," Peterson said. "The jury had a tough decision to make, and they were entitled to that eight hours."
Peterson praised co-prosecutor Carvel Harward and Millard County investigators. "We've got a good team, and they served us well - every one of them," he said.
"It's been a long year," said Sheriff Ed Phillips, adding that the case has required countless man-hours. "We're confident to move forward on" the Wood trial.
Prosecutors called approximately 40 witnesses during Archuleta's trial and presented between 250 and 300 pieces of evidence.
"We felt strongly about the evidence," Peterson said. "We didn't have second thoughts. It was a murder that deserved a first-degree murder verdict."
Co-defendant loses a round in U.S. court
Lance Conway Wood, Michael Anthony Archuleta's co-defendant in a murder case, has lost a round in U.S. District Court.
Wood, 20, is charged in the killing of Southern Utah State College student Gordon Ray Church. Wood is awaiting trial in the case.
Meanwhile, he filed a federal suit saying he tried to warn parole officers "something bad was going to happen" because Archuleta had shown up. He said that on Nov. 15, 1988 - a week before the murder - he tried unsuccessfully to have Archuleta arrested.
But U.S. Magistrate Ronald N. Boyce ruled that Wood "had no right to leave his supervision or violate his parole officer's orders. He also had no right to have Archuleta arrested."
Boyce recommended that the $2 million suit be dismissed, and U.S. District Judge Bruce S. Jenkins agreed, throwing it out.