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‘It seems like it could take forever': Man wants justice served for mother’s ’86 murder

SHARE ‘It seems like it could take forever': Man wants justice served for mother’s ’86 murder

Twenty years after the fact, the son of a woman who was brutally murdered is still fighting for justice.

"If I went and committed a crime, say speeding, for example, and it took me 20 years to pay my fine, they would have found me and thrown me in jail by now," said Matt Hunsaker. "His fine is death by execution, and it's time to pay it."

Ralph LeRoy Menzies, now 47, was sentenced to the death penalty for the Feb. 23, 1986, murder of 26-year-old Maurine Hunsaker. She was a mother of three, working a night shift at a gas station in Kearns, when she was kidnapped. She called her husband about 11 that night and told him she had been abducted and robbed but was expecting to be let go. Her body was found two days later near the Storm Mountain picnic area in Big Cottonwood Canyon. She was tied to a tree and her throat had been slashed.

Even at age 10, Matt Hunsaker knew what he had lost. And 20 years later, he still knows. For that reason, he has remained vigilant in the fight to avenge her death.

"I was her world and she was mine," he said. "For so many years it was just me and her, and we did everything together." He has a younger brother and sister, but they were both under the age of 2 at the time and hadn't known their mother very long.

In 20 years, Matt Hunsaker said he's done a lot of things that his mother had to miss. He's finished school, gone to college, been married and divorced, had children, turned 30, bought a home and traveled to great places — all things he'd love to tell his mother about.

"I've been living the American dream, so to speak," he said. "All the things I've done, and my mom's not there to see it." He's visited his mother's grave every year on major holidays and her birthday. His two children have accompanied him almost every time. He doesn't give them the details of their grandmother's death, but they know, when they show up at the random hearings, that Menzies is the reason she's not around anymore.

Matt Hunsaker said friends and family who have seen the recent media attention have been surprised that Menzies hasn't been executed. He said it just isn't something that gets brought up in social circles. But he keeps on the quest, believing his mother deserves it.

"This is my job as her son," he said. "I know how much my mom loved me, even in the short time I spent with her, and I know how much I love my own kids."

Utah Assistant Attorney General Thomas Brunker said the Utah Supreme Court is reviewing the state's post-conviction case, trying to see if a federal court should be handling it at this stage.

"We know who murdered Maurine Hunsaker, there's no real question that Menzies is the one who murdered her, yet he's still alive," Brunker told KSL-TV. He said Matt Hunsaker's efforts have helped move the courts along.

Changing what happened isn't what Matt Hunsaker wants to do. He just wants his mother's killer to pay for what he did to her.

"What's happened to him in 20 years?" he said. "Three hots and a cot every stinking day. I lost my mom, plus I had to take care of myself. He's just been given a free ride all this time." He says it is "preposterous" that the case is still sifting through the legal system.

"It won't bring my mother back by any means, but it will bring closure for the family," he said.

Menzies was set to die in November 2003, but Matt Hunsaker was told by Menzies' lawyer that it was just a formality that the judge signed the warrant. Since then, several appeals have been made, including one involving alleged errors in court transcripts and another claiming inadequate representation.

Elizabeth Hunt, Menzies' defense attorney, said the federal case has been stayed until the state court issues are resolved. She declined to comment on whether Menzies has ever said anything about the decade-old crime for which he's been doing time.

He is one of 11 people currently on Utah's death row. He has chosen to die by firing squad, which would take place at the state prison in Draper. Now, it's just a matter of time, Matt Hunsaker said, "and it seems like it could take forever."

"I will be there to see it; that is if it happens while I'm still around," Matt Hunsaker said. "Justice needs to be served."

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com