A death row inmate is asking a Utah judge for a stay of an April 5 execution by firing squad while he pursues a review of his state conviction and sentence in the federal courts.
Attorneys for Michael Anthony Archuleta filed a notice of his intention to file a habeas corpus petition on Feb. 10 in Salt Lake City’s U.S. District Court. Such requests consider whether a person’s conviction and sentence are constitutional.
Court papers say Archuleta, 49, is entitled to a stay while federal courts review the case.
Archuleta has not previously appealed his 1989 capital conviction in the federal system. Five state court appeals have been rejected, however – the last in November.
A state judge signed a death warrant on Feb. 8 for Archuleta’s execution. A federal judge has not yet set a date for a hearing. The case had been filed under seal until last week.
Assistant Attorney General Tom Brunker on Tuesday told The Associated Press the state does not oppose a stay of Archuleta’s execution.
Court papers filed to date by Archuleta’s attorneys do not indicate what arguments they will mount in asking the federal court to consider the case.
Archuleta and co-defendant Lance Conway Wood were convicted in separate trials in 1989 of the murder of Southern Utah University student Gordon Church.
The three men met in a Cedar City convenience store on Nov. 22, 1988, and then went to nearby Cedar Canyon where Church was raped and beaten. Archuleta and Wood then drove Church, 28, to a remote location about 80 miles north of Cedar City, where Church was tortured and beaten to death and his body abandoned.
Archuleta was sentenced to die for the crime and Wood was sentenced to life in prison.
In Archuleta’s last state appeal, attorney James Slavens argued the convicted man deserved a new trial because Wood had taken primary responsibility for the crime in a 2009 court affidavit. Slavens said the confession could have swayed a jury to impose a life sentence in Archuleta’s case, rather than the death penalty, Slavens said.
Justices sided with state prosecutors who said Wood’s 2009 statement was part of a changing explanation, not a confession.
Archuleta is one of nine men on Utah’s death row.
The state last held an execution in June 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad for the 1985 shooting death of a Salt Lake City attorney during a botched escape attempt at a courthouse.