Ralph LeRoy Menzies was sentenced Wednesday to die for killing Maurine Hunsaker 25 months ago.
Prosecutors were surprised. Defense attorneys were upset. Members of the victim's family hugged one another and cried.But Menzies, who moments earlier had broken his silence to maintain his innocence, simply chewed rapidly on his gum and, as throughout the trial, showed little emotion.
When asked how he prefers to die, Menzies replied loudly: "Shoot me."
On March 8, a jury found Menzies, 29, guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Hunsaker, 26, a Kearns mother of four who was kidnapped from her gas-attendant job the night of Feb. 23, 1986, exactly 25 months ago. Her body was discovered two days later in the Big Cottonwood Canyon. She had been strangled and her throat had been slit.
In the sentencing hearing Wednesday, Judge Raymond S. Uno said he is fearful of what might happen if Menzies were to be given a life sentence.
"My greatest concern is for the innocent victims in the future and how to protect them," Uno said, after reciting evidence that showed Menzies, since 7 years of age, has committed numerous crimes, including aggravated robbery, theft, escape and now murder.
Uno said Menzies' pattern of living has exposed too many people to harm and fear. "It is unlikely that the pattern will ever change."
The judge said rehabilitation is out of the question for Menzies, and a life sentence would not ensure the safety of others.
"The death penalty is the appropriate penalty, and the court so orders," said Uno, ruling in his first capital case. The judge scheduled Menzies' execution by firing squad for May 20, but that date will be stayed pending an automatic appeal to the Utah Supreme Court.
A disappointed defense attorney Brooke Wells said she believes the death penalty was inappropriate. "A life sentence would have taken care of any potential for threat," Wells said.
She said she plans to appeal Menzies' conviction and sentence. "We believe there's great potential for the Supreme Court to recognize there was error in the trial," Wells said, citing problems with the jury as an example.
Breaking his courtroom silence in the murder proceedings, which began Feb. 10, Menzies delivered a brief statement prior to sentencing, maintaining his innocence.
"I am truly innocent on the charges, even though the jury found me guilty," Menzies said. He then expressed sorrow to the victim's family and thanked the judge, his attorneys, the court personnel and two members of the prosecution team: Rick MacDougall and Rich Bergan.
Notably absent from Menzies' gratitude was lead prosecutor Ernie Jones, who said sarcastically afterward, "I'm really crushed."
Jones said he was somewhat surprised that Uno handed Menzies thedeath sentence. "I wasn't sure the judge would give the death penalty. But Mr. Menzies left the court with no choice but to give him the death penalty."
Following the sentence, Hunsaker's husband, Jim Hunsaker, hugged members of his family, including Maurine Hunsaker's 12-year-old son from a previous marriage.
"I am very much pleased with the verdict," said Hunsaker, who has been critical of the delays and the way the defense tried to characterize his marriage to Maurine as rocky. "I can continue on with my life now."