Judge denies petition from death row inmate, finds the man's attorneys were effective

Published: Monday, April 2 2012 5:00 p.m. MDT

WEST JORDAN — A judge has denied another appeal by Ralph Leroy Menzies, who has been on Utah's death row for 24 years, finding the convicted killer had effective attorneys at trial.

In his March 23 ruling, 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck wrote that current counsel for  Menzies — who was sentenced to death for the murder of Maurine Hunsaker — has "been diligent and zealous and effective in arguing errors made by trial counsel."

"No doubt if trial counsel had the 24 years (Menzies) has had to think about these issues, and the over two years that post-conviction counsel has had, trial counsel would have done some things differently," Lubeck ruled. "That is, however, supremely irrelevant."

He added that the law only requires "reasonable counsel" and that Menzies did have reasonable counsel.

"The burden of this court is to determine if trial counsel was, under the proper standard, acting on behalf of (Menzies) in a reasonably effective way," Lubeck wrote. "This court firmly believes ... that trial counsel did just that."

Menzies' case will now be reviewed by the Utah Supreme Court for a fourth time.

On Feb. 23, 1986, Menzies kidnapped Hunsaker from a convenience store in Kearns, took her to Storm Mountain in Big Cottonwood Canyon, tied her to a tree, strangled her and slit her throat. He was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder in 1988.

The Utah Supreme Court upheld Menzies' conviction and sentence in 1994. But in 2007, it ruled Menzies had ineffective counsel for his first post-conviction appeal filed in 1995, and determined Menzies could start that appeal over again.

Lubeck noted that it took some time to find an attorney willing to take the case before it was assigned to Theodore Weckel in 2009, but that Weckel "has done substantial and quality work and has pursued the case well."

Thomas Brunker, who heads the capital appeals division in the Utah Attorney General's Office, said in a statement that the ruling confirmed the state's stance on Menzies' attorneys.

"We are pleased with the outcome and optimistic this case will now move forward with greater speed," Brunker said. "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."

Menzies can also pursue an appeal in federal court.

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com

Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

Get The Deseret News Everywhere