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Utah high court affirms conviction, sentence of death row inmate

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Supreme Court has denied a request from one of Utah's death row inmates requesting either a new trial or a new sentencing hearing.

"We have reviewed the many diverse and complex claims raised by Michael Archuleta in this brutal murder case," Utah Supreme Court Justice Thomas Lee wrote in a ruling handed down Tuesday. "We are convinced that none have merit, and we accordingly affirm the various rulings ... rejecting those claims."

Archuleta, 49, was sentenced to death in the Nov. 22, 1988, murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Ray Church, 28. Church offered Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood, who were both on parole, a ride after meeting the pair at a gas station.

After driving into a nearby canyon, the two men had Church exit the vehicle on the premise of robbing him, but instead began to severely beat and torture the man before raping him with a tire iron and burying him in a shallow grave.

Wood told his parole officer and led investigators to the body the next day. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In oral arguments before the high court in May, Archuleta's attorney, James Slavens, argued that the man had ineffective attorneys during his previous appeals and during his initial 1989 jury trial.

Lee wrote that judgments are set aside using a certain rule "only in unusual and exceptional circumstances" and those were not to be found in Archuleta's case as there was evidence that Archuleta's previous attorney "diligently sought to serve his client’s interests."

He noted that the state's high court has already heard appeals from Archuleta multiple times on a variety of different claims.

"We find none of Archuleta’s numerous claims … availing, and we accordingly reaffirm his conviction for first degree murder and sentence of death," Lee wrote.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam