A 4th District Court jury took nearly 11 hours Saturday to find Lance Conway Wood, 21, guilty of capital homicide in the Nov. 22, 1988, torture slaying of Gordon Ray Church.
A tearful, 10-woman, two-man jury returned its verdict at 9 p.m. after beginning deliberations Saturday morning. The jury also found Wood guilty of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping in the murder of Church, a Southern Utah State College student.Judge Boyd L. Park ordered jurors to return Wednesday for the sentencing phase of Wood's trial. Wood either will be sentenced to die or will be given life in prison.
"The verdict was fair. Two people committed the murder. Both of them should have been convicted and both of them are now convicted," said Millard County Attorney Warren Peterson.
In December, Wood's co-defendant, Michael Anthony Archuleta, was condemned to die after being found guilty of capital homicide.
Defense attorney Marcus Taylor, who wept briefly after the verdict was read, said he was disappointed but not surprised.
"The evidence was there for the jury to believe," he said, "but there was room for the jury to view the evidence in a light that could have resulted in a lesser offense. They had to pick and choose who to believe."
Wood sat stoically as the verdict was read but turned toward his fiancee, Brenda Stapley, and mouthed the words "I love you" before he left the courtroom.
"I'm blown away," Stapley said after the verdict was read. She said she still believes Wood is not guilty.
"I didn't think they (jurors) would go that hard (on him). I thought him going to the police would help."
The day after the murder, Wood led investigators to Church's badly beaten, chain-draped body, which was buried under dirt and branches in an isolated area known as Dog Valley near Cove Fort, Millard County.
Members of the victim's family hugged Peterson and co-counsel Carvel Harward as the courtroom cleared.
"I think the Millard County attorney's office and the Millard County Sheriff's Department have done an outstanding job in reference to professionalism, integrity and pursuit of justice. I would like to thank them for their efforts," said the victim's father, David G. Church.
"I am still heartbroken that Gordon is gone and that he had to suffer so much at the hands of these criminals," he said. "We miss him, and society will not be able to benefit from the good that he had to contribute."
Peterson called Wood's case more difficult than Archuleta's.
"There was not as much statement testimony, and there is the pressure of doing it the second time and feeling that the same result had to be obtained for justice to be served. And that created a lot of pressure on the team."
Peterson praised Harward and Millard County investigators.
"This case was the best-investigated case I'm aware of," he said. "The investigators didn't miss anything. They did it just right."