In the Bible Belt, Christmas Isn’t Coming to Death Row

When it comes to the death penalty, guilt or innocence shouldn’t really matter to Christians.  

NASHVILLE — Until August, Tennessee had not put a prisoner to death in nearly a decade. Last Thursday, it performed its third execution in four months.
This was not a surprising turn of events. In each case, recourse to the courts had been exhausted. In each case Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, declined to intervene, though there were many reasons to justify intervening. Billy Ray Irick suffered from psychotic breaks that raised profound doubts about his ability to distinguish right from wrong. Edmund Zagorksi’s behavior in prison was so exemplary that even the warden pleaded for his life. David Earl Miller also suffered from mental illness and was a survivor of child abuse so horrific that he tried to kill himself when he was 6 years old.
Questions about the humanity of Tennessee’s lethal-injection protocol were so pervasive following the execution of Mr. Irick that both Mr. Zagorski and M…

Intellectual disability claim now at the center of decades-old death penalty case before Utah Supreme Court

The execution chamber in Utah State Prison.
A Utah man who has been on death row for nearly 30 years is back in state court fighting his capital murder conviction.

Attorneys for Michael Anthony Archuleta, now 55, argued before the Utah Supreme Court on Wednesday that their client is intellectually disabled, and therefore, legally cannot be executed.

The claim was initially made in a federal court appeal for Archuleta, who has been on Utah's death row since his December 1989 conviction of the brutal murder of 28-year-old Southern Utah State College student Gordon Ray Church.

But because the intellectual disability claim had not been brought before the state courts before, that portion of the federal appeal was sent to the state's highest court for consideration.

Archuleta's attorney, Charlotte Merril, argued Wednesday that her client's previous counsel in state court was "conflicted, underqualified and underfunded" and failed to see the "red flags" of Archuleta's intellectual disability.

Lawyers with the Utah attorney general's office countered by arguing that Archuleta's current attorneys waited until the last possible moment to raise the concern in an effort to further delay appeals that have stretched for decades. He called it a "victory" for a defense team to delay an execution, noting that the 2012 federal appeal has been at a near stand-still since Archuleta's attorneys raised concerns of intellectual disability.

"A guilty person on death row has every incentive to wait until the last possible minute to gum up claims," argued Aaron Murphy, assistant solicitor general.

But Merril disagreed.

"Sitting on death row while intellectually disabled is not a victory," she said.

The Utah Supreme Court took the matter under advisement, and will issue a written ruling. If the high court rejects the arguments - making it the 6th time that the state courts has rejected Archuleta's appeals - the federal appeal will still continue.

On Nov. 21, 1988, then-parolees Archuleta and Lance Conway Wood drove Church to a remote location in Millard County. There, they attached jumper cables to Church's testicles, used the car battery to shock him, raped him with a tire iron, beat him with a car jack and buried him in a shallow grave.

In separate trials, Archuleta and Wood each were convicted of capital murder. Wood was sentenced to life in prison, while Archuleta was sentenced to death.

He is 1 of 9 men currently on Utah's death row.

Source: Salt Lake Tribune, Jessica Miller, January 10, 2018

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