Life sentence: Man hears punishment for deacon’s death |

Life sentence: Man hears punishment for deacon’s death

The widow of a Catholic deacon slain in a highway shooting near Summit County would rather her husband’s killer serve life in prison than be put to death.

"We are people of peace Taking the murderer’s life does not erase Aniceto’s death and will not bring him back to life," Wasatch County resident Alma Armendariz said. "We never requested the death penalty, but since no one has the right to take someone else’s life, we do ask that he be punished with the maximum legal punishment."

Prosecutors didn’t seek the death penalty for Cunny Antonio Pelaez, 20, who was sentenced Wednesday to six years to life in prison for murdering Wasatch County resident Aniceto Armendariz, who was a St. Mary’s Catholic Church clergyman.

"People who commit murder always spend at least 20 years or so in prison," Wasatch County Attorney Thomas Low said. "The defendant presents a serious threat of violent behavior."

In 2005 Pelaez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, killed Aniceto Armendariz with a shotgun as the religious leader drove with his wife on eastbound U.S. 40 from Park City to Heber.

Though he apologized for the death of the deacon, Pelaez denies he shot the man.

"He also denies that he ever admitted to being the shooter to a fellow inmate," Pelaez’s defense attorney, Scott Williams, said.

But statements made by Pelaez in jail show a possible motive in the crime, Low said.

"[Armendariz] had bought into the social contract, he obeyed the laws, including immigration laws," Low said. "There is an element in the Hispanic community that resents that Mr. Armendariz fully acclimated himself into our community."

Pelaez must serve the maximum prison time, the victim’s widow said.

"How was it possible that they left me without a husband and my children without a father," Alma Armendariz said Wednesday in a Fourth District Court sentencing hearing in Heber. "What could Aniceto have done that it cost him his life? Nothing could ever make me understand what."

The 20-year-old was persuaded to shoot the deacon by his father, 56-year-old Antonio Vasquez-Pelaez, who is scheduled to go on trial in April for a murder charge related to the shooting, Low contends.

"But at the same time he said he didn’t like his father," Low added.

Meanwhile, the murdered deacon in his life, cautioned youth in the area, including Pelaez, to avoid crime, Alma Armendariz said.

"He was a peacemaker, a mentor for many people, including those who ended his life, the murderers," she told the court. "He always gave [Cunny] advice."

Pelaez called Armendariz ‘maestro,’ which means teacher in Spanish, Low said, adding, "to have him turn around and kill him, she felt betrayed."

A guilty plea from Pelaez means he cannot appeal the sentence, Low said.

Investigators say after Armendariz was shot his wife survived after the vehicle rolled several times.

"We had the kind of life my husband always wanted his family to have," Alma Armendariz said. "Suddenly, they destroyed this in an instant."

The deacon was a popular leader among Latinos in Summit and Wasatch counties, having worked at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Park City.

"He was the most honest man that I have ever met," Alma Armendariz said. "He tried to work in the light until his final moment."

She expressed fear in court that Pelaez may be released from prison to again hurt her family.

To which the defendant’s attorney responded, "[Pelaez] has absolutely no intention of ever harming anyone."

"He wishes he could change it but he knows he can not," Williams said.

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