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DEBATE BREWS OVER TEEN’S SENTENCING

SHARE DEBATE BREWS OVER TEEN’S SENTENCING

Anthony Archuleta shouldn't join the hardened criminals at the Point of the Mountain for killing Roland "Bo" Zahorka at a phone booth last year, his defense attorneys say.

Instead, they argue, the 17-year-old should go to a "therapeutic community" with no bars or locks.A 3rd District judge hasn't agreed or disagreed but will give the attorneys two more weeks to prepare their recommendations. Meanwhile, families and friends of Zahorka wonder when justice will be served.

"I'm so sick of it. When will Bo get his day?" cried his sister, Colleen, after Judge Homer Wilkinson delayed the teen's sentencing Tuesday.

A jury deliberated 41/2 hours in October before convicting Archuleta of murder, a first-degree felony. Jurors didn't buy his story that he was acting in self-defense when he pushed a pistol against Zahorka's chest and pulled the trigger Feb. 3.

The shooting followed a brief but heated argument over the use of a phone, witnesses testified. Zahorka pulled his truck near a bank of phones at a convenience store and approached one when Archuleta said, "You ain't using the phone."

"It's a public phone," Zahorka replied, according to witness Raymond Mudd.

A pushing match ensued before Archuleta accepted a gun from a friend, cocked it with his right hand, pressed its barrel against Zahorka's heart and fired, according to court testimony.

The judge was to sentence Archuleta Tuesday but ruled in favor of the defense's motion to delay until they could present sentencing alternatives.

"The court will not rush through this matter and create a possible opportunity for appeal," Wilkinson said from his bench.

Defense attorney Brooke Wells said she has contacted five different programs in Florida, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Utah and California and is still waiting to hear from some.

The Utah program is Odyssey House, a highly structured therapy community that gives participants individual counseling and vocational rehabilitation without locking them behind bars.

But Odyssey House director Glen Lambert said Tuesday the nonprofit program does not plan to accept Archuleta. "We interviewed him and turned him down for reasons I can't discuss."

He said, however, that the program is "under tremendous" pressure to re-evaluate the decision. "We may screen him again."

A similar but more long-term program in San Francisco is also considering whether to accept Archuleta. When asked why he shouldn't serve time in the Utah State Prison, Wells said, "He's still a kid, he's barely 17. It's as simple as that."

She also noted in court that other Utah teens who have committed murder have not been sentenced to prison but to similar programs.