Family of murdered woman loses hope for justice

Family of murdered woman loses hope for justice

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WEST JORDAN — Matt Hunsaker has not missed a single court hearing in the nearly 26 years since his mother's murder. Wednesday was no different.

Attorneys for the man sentenced to die in connection with Maurine Hunsaker's death — Ralph Leroy Menzies — and attorneys for the state argued before 3rd District Judge Bruce Lubeck Wednesday over whether Menzies has a right to a new hearing on the evidence in his case.

But attorney Brandon Simmons made it clear what Hunsaker's family wants.

"The victim's family continues to oppose any unnecessary delays," he said. "It's been 25 years, 10 months and 26 days since Maurine Hunsaker was killed."

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.

It is what it is. The family's taken a different look at it now, but what's going to come of it? My family has lost hope.

–Matt Hunsaker

In 2007, the Utah Supreme Court ruled Menzies had ineffective counsel during his post conviction appeal, initially filed in 1995, and determined Menzies could start his appeal over again.

Menzies' attorney, Theodore Weckel, argued that he wants to interview Menzies' trial attorney on strategy as well as someone who said he saw a man he later identified as Menzies in Storm Canyon on Feb. 23. The attorney asked for either time to take depositions or an evidentiary hearing in which he could put the individuals on the witness stand.

He said this would allow for a more complete record in the case.

"Let's do it right before it's remanded again," Weckel urged Lubeck.

Thomas Brunker, who heads the capital appeals division in the Utah Attorney General's Office, argued that the information from those witnesses "is not going to be legally significant." He said the judge should first determine whether the facts alleged by Menzies' attorneys are sufficient before they're heard in court.

Ralph Menzies
Ralph Menzies

Lubeck took the matter under advisement. He said he would hand down a written ruling "as soon as I can."

Matt Hunsaker called the whole thing "frivolous" and said defense attorneys are searching for a "needle in a haystack." Still, he said the family is used to sitting in hearings with no conclusions.

"We're not surprised," he said. "It is what it is. The family's taken a different look at it now, but what's going to come of it? My family has lost hope."

That said, Hunsaker said he has no doubt that Menzies is the one responsible for his mother's death.

"The evidence is there," he said. "You heard it today — not a thing about valid claims of innocence."

Brunker said the arguments Menzies' attorneys are making aren't sufficient to warrant a days-long hearing for the man.

"Part of what it's about is how long this has already taken," Brunker said. "For the purposes of the state of Utah and the victim, it has been unnecessarily long."

He said that the appeal was originally filed in 1995. Brunker estimated that the death row inmate has had a total of 15 attorneys from the time of his trial to the present.

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