SALT LAKE CITY — A federal court on Friday denied a petition against the state from a man who has been on Utah's death row for 30 years.
More than 15 years after it was first filed, 10th Circuit Court Judge Claire V. Eagan denied Ralph Leroy Menzies' habeas corpus petition.
"The Constitution was followed and Utah's criminal justice system worked," is what Andrew Peterson, who handled the appeal for the Utah Attorney General's Office, said was the takeaway from Friday's decision.
The judge concluded in a lengthy 155-page ruling that Menzies' conviction and sentence did not violate the Constitution, said Peterson.
"It is a significant milestone that brings the case closer to conclusion," he said.
On Feb. 23, 1986, Menzies kidnapped Maurine 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 die for the murder in 1988. Menzies is eligible for execution by firing squad because his case is grandfathered under Utah's old law.
The Utah Supreme Court upheld Menzies' conviction and sentence in 1994. But Menzies filed a habeas corpus petition in 2003 claiming he had ineffective counsel.
Because of the type of petition Menzies filed, he is not entitled to automatically appeal every point to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A judge has to give him permission. In this case, Peterson said Eagan has allowed Menzies to appeal just five of the 43 issues he raised.
"The judge dramatically narrowed what Menzies can appeal," he said.
Although the proceedings in district court began in 2003, Peterson said the next step in the process, should Menzies take it, is an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court that wouldn't take nearly as long.