Utah asked for a death warrant, but attorneys for convicted killer say he has dementia and shouldn’t be executed

Ralph Menzies, 65, has been on death row for nearly 36 years. State officials hoped to execute him in the coming months.

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

Utah death row inmate Ralph Leroy Menzies is suffering from dementia and is not mentally sound enough to be executed this year, his attorneys argued in a new court filing Tuesday.

The Utah attorney general’s office filed a motion last week requesting a judge sign Menzies’ death warrant, saying that he had no remaining appeals of his conviction after nearly 36 years on death row.

Menzies’ attorneys on Tuesday asked 3rd District Judge Matthew Bates to instead order an evaluation of the convicted killer’s competency. The federal public defenders argue that 65-year-old Menzies is not able to rationally understand the reasons for his execution, and it would be unconstitutional for state officials to kill him.

The attorneys wrote in Tuesday’s court filing that Menzies began experiencing chronic dizziness in 2018, and fell from a ladder while working at the prison that year — causing a multiday hospitalization. He continues to have escalated, unexplained dizziness, and a range of other health issues, they said.

“Mr. Menzies now uses a walker to navigate the prison and his condition is deteriorating quickly,” his attorneys wrote. “In the past two years, he has lost over 75 pounds.”

Prison officials conducted an MRI exam on Menzies in March 2023 after he fell several times, according to the court filing. The results, his attorneys wrote, was that “Menzies’ brain tissue is shrinking due to the progression of his dementia.”

“His episodes of confusion, difficulty recalling conversations with others, frequent misplacement of items, and lapses in awareness of his daily schedule on the cell block are all indicative of vascular dementia,” the filing reads. “Notably, his capacity to retain learned information has become severely compromised, as evidenced by his ability to discuss his case in one moment only to have no memory of the conversation or the information discussed the next day.”

Richard Piatt, a spokesperson for the Utah attorney general’s office, said Tuesday that his office “received the petition and our attorneys are currently reviewing it.”

Lawyers with the attorney generals’ office wrote in last week’s court filing that Menzies’ time has run out — and he has no pending action challenging either his capital murder conviction or death sentence.

“Therefore no legal reason exists to delay issuing an execution warrant,” the state lawyers wrote.

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.

Maurine Hunsaker

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.

Menzies is one of seven men currently on Utah’s death row.