Death penalty amendment fails in the House



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A proposal to change Utah's Constitution to let lawmakers regulate post-conviction appeals failed Thursday. The issue is a big one in death penalty cases, and some family members of murder victims are not happy.

The measure would have streamlined the post-conviction process and shortened the amount of time convicted killers are on death row before execution. It needed 50 votes, or a two-thirds majority, to pass in the House but failed 38-35.

Family members of murder victims are speaking out about what they call "endless, frivolous appeals," where a death row inmate can use appeal after appeal to escape execution.

"Because it's been 23 years since [Ralph] Menzies was put on death row, and he's brought appeal after appeal -- none of them to do anything with whether he's guilty or not. There's absolutely no doubt of his guilt. It's just minor technicalities he keeps appealing on," said Betty Sudweeks, mother of murder victim Maureen Hunsaker.

Kim Salazar, daughter of murder victim Joyce Yost, said, "He has confessed to what he's done, makes no issue that way that he's not guilty. But yet here we sit over 20 years later with him trying to get a new trial."

Utah's attorney general was not pleased with the vote either. "Those talking delay simply told these people, ‘You don't have justice. It's a broken system. Just go home. We'll look at it again next year,'" Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said.

Opponents of the measure argue it would give lawmakers more power than the courts. Shurtleff says this issue will come back next year.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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John Daley

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