Utah seeks death warrant for killer convicted in 1988

According to the attorney general’s office, Ralph Leroy Menzies has run out of appeals of his conviction and sentence — though his civil challenge to Utah’s execution protocols is still pending.

(Al Hartmann | Salt Lake Tribune) Death row inmate Ralph Menzies enters 3rd District Court on Friday, Nov. 16, 2007.

For the third time, the state of Utah is seeking to put killer Ralph Leroy Menzies to death — and, according to court filings, he has no remaining appeals of his conviction.

“Time has nearly run out for Menzies, and his sentence will be carried out: Death by firing squad,” the Utah Attorney General’s Office posted on its website in November.

The attorney general’s office on Wednesday asked 3rd District Court Judge Matthew Bates to sign the execution order. Menzies has previously chosen the option of execution by firing squad, which would be the first carried out at the new Utah State Prison in Salt Lake City.

In 1988, Menzies was convicted of killing Maurine Hunsaker, a 26-year-old mother of three, two years earlier. He abducted her from a Kearns convenience store where she was working, and her body was later found at a Big Cottonwood Canyon picnic area. She had been strangled and her throat had been cut.

And, after nearly 36 years on death row, “Menzies has no pending action challenging either his capital murder conviction or death sentence,” according to the Utah Attorney General’s Office court filing. “Therefore no legal reason exists to delay issuing an execution warrant.”

In December, 3rd District Court Judge Coral Sanchez dismissed a claim by Menzies and four other death row inmates that the firing squad and lethal injection methods Utah uses to execute prisoners are “cruel and unusual punishment” that violate the state’s constitution.

But that case is not yet fully resolved — she is now deciding whether to allow the inmates to file a new version of their complaint.

In 1988, Menzies had waived his right to have a jury decide his penalty, and was sentenced to death by a judge. A death warrant was issued, but the judge stayed the order while Menzies unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence on a number of grounds. A second death warrant was issued in September 2003, but stayed by a federal appeals court a month later while Menzies continued to file unsuccessful appeals.

The Utah Supreme Court rejected Menzies’ appeals in 2014, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld the sentence in 2022, and in 2023 the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request that it review Menzies’ case.

The last execution in Utah was in 2010, when Ronnie Lee Gardner faced a firing squad for the murder of attorney Michael Burdell, who he shot while unsuccessfully trying to escape from a courthouse. (Gardner had previously been convicted of killing Melvyn John Otterstrom, for which he had received a life sentence.)

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner, center, with his attorney Andrew Parnes in Judge Robin Reese's courtroom at the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City Thursday Apr 22, 2010.