The 25-year legal saga of condemned killer Ralph Leroy Menzies took a small step toward an execution date last month, when a 3rd District Court judge denied an appeal contending the defendant received inadequate representation from his lawyers who handled his murder case in the 1980s.
Judge Bruce Lubeck denied Menzies’ request on March 23.
But Menzies — convicted by a jury and sentenced to die for the 1986 kidnapping and slaying of Maurine Hunsaker, a 26-year-old mother of three — will now argue to have his case overturned for a fourth time before the Utah Supreme Court in the future.
Said Utah Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker: "We are pleased with the outcome and optimistic this case will now move forward with greater speed. We have argued and maintain that Menzies had excellent representation by highly skilled attorneys both at trial and on direct appeal. Even though the most skilled attorneys sometimes make mistakes, that did not happen here."
The now 53-year-old Menzies took Hunsaker from the convenience store where she worked, then tied her to a tree before he strangled her and slashed her throat. At the time of the murder, Menzies had been on parole for the 1978 shooting and robbery of a Salt Lake City cab driver.
Menzies tried to appeal his conviction and death sentence, but both were upheld by the Utah Supreme Court in 1994. Menzies filed a second appeal in 3rd District Court in 2002, which a district court judge denied. But the Supreme Court later reinstated the appeal, citing "deplorable" work by Menzies’ attorney in the first appeal.
Menzies’ attorney then left the case and the appeal was delayed as several other attorneys refused to represent Menzies because of low-pay offered in the case. In 2009, attorneys Craig Peterson and Theodore Weckel agreed to represent Menzies. Weckel is the 15th defense attorney on Menzies’ case.
Weckel has said that Menzies’ attorney at his initial trial, Brooke Wells, who is now a U.S. magistrate, didn’t effectively cross-examine witnesses, and botched a proper defense for Menzies. Lubeck agreed with prosecutors that Wells did an adequate job of defending Menzies.
Brunker has argued that Menzies continues to try to draw out the case and that he is not entitled to avoid the death penalty.
Menzies still has appeals options in federal court.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.