Utah man convicted in wife’s fatal 2017 cruise ship beating found dead in Alaskan jail cell

JUNEAU, Alaska — A Utah man sentenced last month for fatally beating his wife — in front of two of their daughters — during a 2017 Alaskan cruise has been found dead in his prison cell.

Kenneth Ray Manzanares, 43, of Santa Clara, was found dead early Wednesday in his cell at Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau. Manzanares had been in custody in Alaska since the day after the July 25, 2017, murder of 39-year-old Kristy Manzanares.

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Department of Corrections officials said in a statement that Manzanares was found unresponsive in his cell at 6:59 a.m. Wednesday.

“Correctional officers and medical staff responded and immediately began performing life-saving measures until emergency responders arrived on scene at 7:14 a.m.,” prison officials said. “EMS pronounced Manzanares dead at 7:42 a.m.”

Authorities did not say how Manzanares died but said foul play is not suspected. His death was not COVID-19 related.

Manzanares was just over a month into a 30-year federal sentence for killing his wife as the couple, their three daughters and Kristy Manzanares’ family enjoyed a cruise on the Emerald Princess. According to federal prosecutors, Kristy Manzanares had indicated to her husband that she wanted a divorce.

She’d asked her husband to disembark from the ship when it docked in Juneau and to go home alone to Utah. The subsequent beating Kenneth Manzanares inflicted on her left her unrecognizable.

Manzanares pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in February 2020.

Federal court documents indicate that the murder took place a couple of days into the cruise after Kenneth Manzanares, who had been drinking, began behaving badly at dinner, “forcibly kissing Kristy against her wishes.”

One of Kristy Manzanares’ two brothers got into an argument with Kenneth Manzanares and the couple left the dinner for Cabin D726, the 323-square-foot stateroom in which they were staying on Deck 9, toward the stern of the ship.

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Joined by their oldest and youngest daughters, the couple argued about Kenneth Manzanares’ behavior, at which point Kristy Manzanares said she was “done” with him.

“She kept saying, ‘I’m done. We need to figure out a way to get you off the boat in Juneau. I knew you’d find a way to ruin this trip,’” Kenneth Manzanares told police, according to transcripts.

Read the transcript of what Manzanares told FBI agents below.

When the topic of divorce came up, Kenneth Manzanares told the children to leave.

What happened next was brutal and bloody.

“Both children left the cabin, walked to their grandparents’ adjoining cabin (and) upon entering, they listened to their parents’ conversation and then heard a loud noise and Kristy screaming,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “The two children attempted to open the door connecting the cabins and were unable to enter.”

“Dad, stop. I can hear you,” the couple’s youngest daughter, Kaiya, shouted at her father.

“And I yelled something like, ‘Kaiya, don’t come in here. I mean it,’” Kenneth Manzanares said.

Today I'm thankful for these 3 girls whom I frequently refer to as my little Beasts. In reality, they are becoming...

Posted by Kristy Manzanares on Thursday, November 26, 2015

The girls ran onto the adjoining balcony and tried to get into their parents’ cabin through the sliding glass doors.

“As they looked into the cabin, they both saw Manzanares straddling on top of Kristy on the bed, striking her in the head with his fists, as they banged on the window and pleaded with Manzanares to stop assaulting their mother,” the documents state. “Manzanares turned and looked at the girls and continued to assault Kristy.”

The girls began banging on the doors of other family members’ cabins until they found Kristy Manzanares’ brother, Dallas Hunt. Hunt went to the couple’s cabin and attempted to use the cabin key, but it would not work.

Hunt ran back to his own cabin and called for help before climbing from his balcony onto the Manzanares’ balcony.

“Kristy’s brother found Manzanares on the balcony, covered in blood, and asked Manzanares what he had done, in which Manzanares replied, ‘She wouldn’t stop laughing at me,’” the documents say. “The cabin was covered in blood.”

As one of the girls ran to get the rest of the family from the dining room, Kenneth Manzanares began fighting with his brother-in-law. He grabbed his dying wife by the arms and began dragging her onto the balcony, but Hunt stopped him.

“Kristy’s father arrived at the cabin and tried to render aid to Kristy, who was unrecognizable,” prosecutors wrote. “It was immediately apparent to Kristy’s father that she was not going to survive her injuries, as she was not breathing nor had a pulse.

“Kristy’s youngest daughter arrived back at the room and asked Manzanares where her mom was. Manzanares pointed to the floor and she held Kristy until medical personnel arrived.”

See prosecutors’ sentencing memo below.

Prosecutors sought a life sentence for Manzanares, who they argued has a history of anger issues. In court documents, they wrote that the defendant had “used his fist as a hammer on the face of his wife” during the fatal beating.

Manzanares’ defense team claimed that their client, who had no prior criminal history, had an IQ of 80, as well as brain injuries from playing contact sports.

Manzanares played football, wrestled and boxed throughout his childhood, court documents state.

The damage, combined with undiagnosed bipolar disorder and “a problematic combination of prescribed medication and alcohol, resulted in an aberrant episode of violence,” according to the defense.

See defense attorneys’ sentencing memo below.

In the months before the murder, Manzanares was taking a combination of Adderall, testosterone, amphetamine-like weight loss drugs, opioid pain medication and a drug used for erectile dysfunction, defense documents allege.

The defense sought a sentence of seven and a half years. They cited the medical records, the witnesses who insisted there was no previous domestic violence in the couple’s marriage, and the wishes of their children.

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“Although they still hold their father responsible, they also understand that his impairments played a major factor in the events that occurred, and they have already lost one parent,” defense attorneys wrote.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess found that experts involved in the case had failed to adequately prove the factors that led to the crime.

Kenneth and Kristy Manzanares, who had been high school sweethearts, were married for 18 years at the time of the murder.

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