Convicted murderer Lance Conway Wood received a life sentence for his part in the torture slaying of Southern Utah State College student Gordon Ray Church.
The jury deliberated only three hours and was unable to reach a unanimous decision that Wood should be sentenced to death, thereby resulting in a life sentence. Fourth District Judge Boyd L. Park read the decision a little after 9 p.m. Wednesday.In December, co-defendant Michael Anthony Archuleta received a death sentence for his part in the killing.
"The system protected Lance Wood's rights a lot better than he protected Gordon Church's (rights)," said Millard County Attorney Warren Peterson, and Wood's crimes deserved the death penalty.
After the decision was read, Wood and defense attorney Marcus Taylor put their arms around each other.
Both Taylor and Peterson agreed that an important reason for the jury's decision and the difference between Archuleta's sentence and Wood's is the defendant's youth. Wood was 20 when Church was murdered. Archuleta was 26.
Taylor said another reason is "Archuleta was the dominating partner."
Wood, described during the sentencing hearing Wednesday as a hyperactive high school dropout who suffered from a learning disability, wept as his father recounted stories from the defendant's childhood and participation in Boy Scout activities. He nearly completed the requirements for Eagle Scout.
Under questioning from Taylor, Edward Wood told jurors that he believes his adopted son can be rehabilitated and "make something of his life." The defendant has matured since his arrest, Edward Wood said, and hopes to finish high school, marry and become an asset to society.
In light of Wood's life sentence, however, his contributions to society likely will have to be made from within prison walls. Taylor said he expects Wood to spend at least 10 years in prison for the conviction before he might be paroled.
Peterson expressed the wish that legislators had provided jurors the option of life without parole.
Wood also cried while his mother, Margie, tearfully recounted the joy of Wood's adoption and the family's patience in trying to deal with Wood's learning problems.
Margie Wood said the family tried counseling, medication and special education to help their only son. For example, she said, one counselor suggested that Wood had not crawled as an infant and needed to do so. The defendant's mother said she, Edward and Lance spent many hours crawling together around the house.
But the treatments had little effect, she said.
Some jurors cried when she shared an affectionate letter Wood wrote on Mother's Day as a teenager.
Peterson's co-counsel, Carvel Harward, called only three witnesses during the sentencing hearing. He said prosecutors were relying chiefly on testimony from the trial's guilt phase to show that aggravating circumstances in Church's murder outweighed mitigating circumstances.
Edward Wood said his son did "fairly well" in elementary school despite speech and learning disabilities that surfaced when he was 3. His son's academic performance dropped, however, in junior high school when he started associating with the wrong crowd.
The defendant was easily influenced by others, Edward Wood said. Shortly after he turned 18, he was convicted of felony theft after he and others stole and wrecked a motorcycle in the Bountiful area.
The defendant originally was placed on probation, but his probation was revoked in October 1987 after he failed to comply with probationary terms. June Hinckley, prison records and identification officer, said the defendant was paroled a year later on Oct. 25, 1988 - less than a month before the murder.
Taylor told jurors the defendant was an unwanted child until being adopted by the Wood family when he was 6 months old.