Man pleads guilty in deacon’s slaying
Why 20-year-old Cunny Antonio Pelaez of Wasatch County participated in the killing of a popular Park City deacon is unclear after the man pleaded guilty last week to taking part in the highway shooting in 2005.
But instead of capital murder, Pelaez may have avoided spending the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole by admitting to one count of criminal homicide, a first-degree felony.
When sentenced in Fourth District Court in March Pelaez faces spending the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors say they didn’t intend to seek the death penalty for the man.
Charges against Pelaez were enhanced when the defendant admitted he knew Armendariz’s wife was in the truck at the time of the shooting, prosecutors say.
During interviews with more than 100 witnesses many theories were reportedly raised as to why Pelaez conspired with his father, 56-year-old Antonio Vasquez-Pelaez, to kill Aniceto Armendariz Jr., a popular Catholic deacon who worked with St. Mary’s Catholic Church parishioners in Park City.
Both suspects in the slaying are illegal immigrants from Mexico who are barred from possessing firearms, according to Wasatch County Attorney Thomas Low.
An 8-day-trial was scheduled to begin in April for the younger Pelaez before his plea was entered Jan. 24.
Armendariz, who was a religious leader at Holy Cross Ministries in Heber, died after he was shot several times while traveling with his wife on U.S. 40 eastbound Sept. 25, 2005.
Investigators say Armendariz died at the scene after he lost control of his truck and rolled the vehicle several times after being shot. The defendants, they claim, were in a nearby van that collided with Armendariz’s truck.
Armendariz’s wife Alma was inside the truck when her husband was shot but suffered only minor injuries in the crash.
The suspects were captured trying to hide from police at a nearby lodge.
Whether Cunny Pelaez was competent to stand trial was questioned last year when he reportedly refused to participate in his defense.
Pelaez’s insistence he was not guilty of the alleged crimes helped prompt the request for a mental evaluation, according to the defendant’s attorney, Scott Williams.
Meanwhile, a murder trial for Vasquez-Pelaez is scheduled to begin in April.
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The Park Record’s top stories list this past weekend included pieces on the area’s historic drought, vandalism of a beloved local work of art and more.