ST. GEORGE — “Dog Valley,” a new feature-length documentary from Avalanche Studios, opens with former Iron County Attorney Scott Burns telling the story of how he was called to the Cedar City Sheriff’s Office in the early hours of Nov. 24, 1988.
At the Sheriff’s Office, Lance Wood told Burns about how his friend Michael Archuleta had murdered Gordon Church.
“I remember thinking, ‘This is too violent, too sad, too outrageous … to be true,'” Burns says in the opening moments of the film. “I was about ready to wrap it up. And I remember looking down on his (Wood’s) shoe, and I saw one speck of blood.”
Burns said that changed everything for him.
‘It’s a dark story but there are some beautiful, redeeming moments’
Gordon Church was a student at Southern Utah University when he met Wood and Archuleta. Church told the men that he was a closeted gay man who was raised by a devout LDS family in Delta, Utah. That admission, the film suggests, may have unleashed a latent fury in Archuleta.
At the time the three men met, both Archuleta and Wood had been recently released from prison and were out on parole. What began as small-talk between Church and the two men in a 7-11 parking lot would become a brutal murder before the night gave way to dawn.
“Dog Valley” director Dave Lindsay told St. George News that the two men beat and raped Church.
“Then they buried him in a shallow grave in Dog Valley in Millard County,” he said.
Wood tried to blame Archuleta for the horrific crime, but evidence proved otherwise, and both men would eventually be convicted of capital murder.
Story continues below film trailer
The murder took place 10 years before Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left for dead in a Wyoming field because he was gay. This was before hate crime laws were introduced.
Lindsay said that Church’s story was one of the things that compelled him and his team to make the film with no production budget in place.
“We were all blown away by the story,” he said. “Our producer, Chad Anderson, had done thorough research. So a lot of the work was already done. We just had to go make the film.”
Lindsay and the crew spent the next couple of years interviewing sources, including Burns, Wood and members of Archuleta’s family, as well as gathering and editing existing footage and shooting reenactments of the events that transpired in November 1988.
Throughout the process, Lindsay said, he was continually surprised by the revelations that were in store.
“The story kept getting more and more interesting,” he said. “Wood developed a relationship with an Idaho senator, for instance. And we discovered that Archuleta may have suffered some trauma in his childhood.”
The biggest challenge Lindsay said his team faced throughout production was a lack of funding.
“But in the end,” he said, “it was all worth it. It’s a dark story, but there are some beautiful, redeeming moments throughout the film.”
“And,” he added, “thanks to the diligent work of law enforcement, justice was served.”
“Dog Valley” was released Friday, with limited screenings over the weekend in Larry H. Miller theaters in northern Utah over the weekend. The film is available to view on Apple TV, iTunes, Redbox, select cable and satellite providers VOD, and many other streaming and VOD/IVOD platforms.
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