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Utah death row inmate exhausts appeals, firing squad execution could be next

Posted at 4:36 PM, Oct 18, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Ralph Leroy Menzies, convicted in the 1986 kidnapping and murder of Maurine Hunsaker, has exhausted his appeals and now the state will seek to have him executed.

The Utah Attorney General's Office confirmed to FOX 13 News on Wednesday that it will seek to have a death warrant signed by a judge, beginning the process to have him executed. It comes after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition by Menzies to overturn his conviction.

Menzies was condemned to die for Hunsaker's murder. She was kidnapped from her job at a convenience store and tied to a tree in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Her throat was slit. She left behind a husband and three children.

In the decades since his conviction, Menzies has been in and out of appeals in state and federal courts. He appears to have few options left now that the nation's top court refused to take up his case. Menzies' court-appointed attorneys declined to comment to FOX 13 News.

"The delays are frustrating, but of course everyone wants to make sure that no innocent person is executed and that they have been given their due process rights, no constitutional rights have been violated," said assistant Utah Attorney General Erin Riley, who handles the state's capital punishment cases. "At this point, especially in a case like Menzies, he has gone through every layer possible."

"We really feel comfortable that everything possible he could attempt to raise has been raised and dealt with and it’s appropriate to proceed based on the heinous crime he committed," she added.

Menzies can still seek commutation of his sentence from the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole. He is also currently suing the state alongside three other death row inmates, challenging Utah's capital punishment statutes. A judge is scheduled to hear that case on Friday. Absent a change there, Menzies could be executed in early 2024.

The last execution carried out in Utah was the firing squad death of Ronnie Lee Gardner in 2010. Under Utah law, lethal injection is the primary method of execution. However, if the state does not possess the chemicals necessary to carry out, firing squad becomes the primary method. The Utah Department of Corrections has said in the past it does not have those chemicals.

Menzies also opted to die by firing squad, Riley said.