UTAH

Ralph Menzies “incapable of forming a rational understanding” of execution, attorneys say

Jan 23, 2024, 10:38 AM | Updated: Feb 13, 2024, 4:12 pm

Ralph Menzies...

FILE: Death row inmate Ralph Menzies attends 3rd District Court in West Jordan on Wednesday, Oct. 3. 2007. The state of Utah has canceled a hearing on the application for an execution warrant scheduled for Feb. 23, 2024, so that independent psychological testing can be conducted on Menzies. (Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune)

(Francisco Kjolseth/The Salt Lake Tribune)

SALT LAKE CITY — The attorneys of Ralph Menzies said that he is no longer mentally sound enough to understand why he’s received the death penalty. 

In a new court filing, Menzies’s attorneys said that he has dementia. “A recent MRI scan shows significant brain atrophy, chronic micro-hemorrhages, and damaged brain tissue,” read the filing. 

Additionally, it said that it has resulted in memory, information processing, and leaning deficits, among other cognitive struggles. 

Menzies’ attorneys argue that his mental condition makes an execution unconstitutional. They cited the Eighth Amendment. The amendment “prohibit[s] a State from carrying out a sentence of death upon a prisoner who is insane.”

They also cited Article 1 of the Utah Constitution. Section 9 of the article outlaws cruel and unusual or overly harsh punishments. 

“Mr. Menzies’ dementia-related cognitive decline renders him incapable of forming a rational understanding of the state’s reasons for his execution,” read the court filing. 

Menzies is 65 years old. He will be 66 in April. Menzies is awaiting execution by firing squad. He is due to appear in court in February. 

How does timing come into play?

KSL Legal Analyst Greg Skordas said that the justice system typically considers these types of potential issues at the time of the trial. That, or the time that the crime was committed. That’s not the case for Menzies.

Had he had dementia at the time of the trial, he may not have been able to stand trial. Or, at sentencing, he may not have received the death penalty,” Skordas said.

“This happens after all of that, Skordas said. “He develops dementia in the 38 years he’s been sitting in prison. And we don’t know what to do with someone like that.”

The conviction of Ralph Menzies

Menzies has been on death row for 35 years. 

According to court documents, he kidnapped Maurine Hunsaker in 1986 from a Kearns convenience store where she was working. After he murdered her in Big Cottonwood Canyon, he left her body tied to a tree. 

KSL.com reported that Menzies has been appealing his sentence for the past three decades. 

On Jan. 17, 2024, the state of Utah filed a motion to execute Menzies. 

Ralph Menzies is one of the few Utah death row inmates eligible to opt for the firing squad. A jury convicted Menzies before the 2004 ruling that outlawed that method. Menzies said on Jan. 17 that he would choose the firing-squad method. 

Ronnie Lee Gardner was the last Utah inmate to be executed by firing squad in 2010. 

 

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Ralph Menzies “incapable of forming a rational understanding” of execution, attorneys say