Utah man gets 30 years in prison for ‘unrelenting’ beating that killed wife on Alaskan cruise

JUNEAU, Alaska — A Utah man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for beating his wife to death with his bare hands on a 2017 Alaskan cruise.

Kenneth Ray Manzanares, 43, of Santa Clara, killed Kristy Manzanares, 39, the night of July 25, 2017, after she indicated she wanted a divorce, according to federal prosecutors. Kristy Manzanares had asked her husband to disembark from the ship, the Emerald Princess, when it docked in Juneau and to go home alone to Utah.

Two of the couple’s three daughters witnessed part of the murder. Their oldest daughter, now 26, has autism and cerebral palsy, court records show.

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“One of the little girls from that room came running out, calling for help, (saying) that her parents had been in a fight,” Chris Ceman, a passenger staying in a room across from the couple, told CBS News. “She sounded pretty desperate, but the crew came up as quickly as they could.”

Kristy Manzanares’ parents and two brothers were also on the cruise when she was slain, authorities said. When one of her brothers, Dallas Hunt, arrived in the couple’s cabin just before 9 p.m. that night, he found Kenneth Manzanares dragging Kristy Manzanares onto the cabin’s balcony.

Prosecutors theorized that he was going to throw his wife over the railing and into the water.

Hunt grabbed his sister’s ankles and pulled her back inside the cabin. She died at the scene of blunt force trauma to the head and face that included multiple skull fractures.

The beating was so violent that Kristy Manzanares was left unrecognizable. She was buried following a closed-casket funeral.

“No excuse can justify the savagery committed by this man, who will now spend the next three decades behind bars,” said Robert Britt, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Anchorage field office.

The FBI investigated the murder, which took place while the cruise ship was in U.S. territorial waters outside of southeast Alaska. Court records show that the ship was about 7 miles from Forrester Island, a small island off the coast of the Alaskan panhandle.

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

Anger or mental illness?

Prosecutors sought a life sentence for Kenneth 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, has 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.

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.

“Testosterone use is a well-known cause of the manic switch,” defense attorneys wrote. “Manic switch describes a process by which mania is induced in a susceptible person by ingestion of substances. The medical records show that Mr. Manzanares obtained his prescription of testosterone from the pharmacy just days before leaving (for) Alaska, and he injected double the prescribed dosage, resulting in a manic switch.”

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.

“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.

Read Kenneth Manzanares’ plea agreement below.

During Manzanares’ sentencing hearing on Thursday, 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.

Kristy Manzanares’ family issued a statement last week stating that the 30-year sentence “brings (them) neither joy nor anger.”

“Rather, (it is) simply a sense of resolution. We believe that the court made a fair and just determination. However, the legal system does not, and is not intended to, fill the emotional void of our loss,” the statement said, according to The Associated Press. “While this marks the end of another chapter of this unimaginable ordeal, the fact is that Kristy’s three girls are still without both of their parents, and our focus now is to support them as best we can.”

Cabin D726

Kenneth and Kristy Manzanares were high school sweethearts who had been married for 18 years at the time of the murder. According to Kristy Manzanares’ obituary, she studied interior design in school and was a successful design consultant and Realtor.

Her daughters were the “light of her life,” the obituary read.

“Her infectious, beautiful smile and sweet, compassionate soul will forever be remembered by all who knew Kristy,” her family wrote. “She made everyone who came in contact with her feel important (and) special and put a smile on their face. Because of that, she was adored by all, and we are all blessed to have had Kristy in our lives.”

Prior to his arrest, Kenneth Manzanares held a number of jobs, including managing a Walgreens and working as a bail bondsman.

Kenneth Manzanares’ sister, Teresa Velasquez, wrote to the court that the couple’s relationship was one she had always admired.

“They were always so affectionate towards one another, and once their girls were born, you could see the love and the tight bond they all had,” Velasquez wrote. “This all makes everything so much harder to understand why this happened and why my sister-in-law is not with us anymore. I miss her every day.”

Velasquez wrote that her brother needed to be punished to give the family’s “beloved Kristy” justice, but she implored the judge to make a fair decision.

Kamryn Manzanares, the couple’s middle daughter, also wrote to the judge about her father. She recalled the efforts her father put forth to not only take care of his family but to ensure that they experienced joy.

“My dad was always going out of his way to make sure me, my sisters and my mom were happy,” Kamryn wrote. “I remember times when my mom would see something at the store that she liked but wouldn’t get it. My dad would go to the store the next day to buy the things that my mom had said she wanted.

“He always wanted to see his girls happy.”

It is not totally clear what changed, or when, but the couple and their three children, along with Kristy Manzanares’ father, her brothers and their families all departed Seattle on the Emerald Princess on July 23, two days before the murder. One of the couple’s daughters posted a photo that day of the ship, along with an image of her cruise key card.

They were the only cruise photos the young woman posted.

Kenneth Manzanares’ plea agreement outlines what happened next.

On the morning of July 25, the couple went on a fishing excursion in Ketchikan, Alaska, while the ship was there for a port of call. Defense witnesses described the couple as “lovey-dovey” on the fishing trip, but prosecutors allege that Kenneth Manzanares, who had been drinking after their return to the cruise ship, began behaving very badly.

At dinner that night, he was “forcibly kissing Kristy against her wishes,” the agreement states. One of Kristy Manzanares’ 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.

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.

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

‘She wouldn’t stop laughing at me’

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.

Read the transcript of what Manzanares told FBI agents below.

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 their uncle. 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.”

See prosecutors’ sentencing memo below.

Blood was all over one of the beds, as well as the walls, the carpet and the furniture in the room.

As Kamryn Manzanares 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.

“She would not stop laughing at me,” Kenneth Manzanares said when Hunt asked what had happened.

“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 defense attorneys’ sentencing memo below.

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Manzanares later admitted to his obnoxious behavior that day and recalled for investigators the subsequent argument and beating. He said he’d drunk at least six alcoholic drinks that day but was not intoxicated to the point of blacking out.

He also told detectives that when he got angry in the past, he’d broken items like television remotes and punched holes in the walls of their home. He also had a habit of restraining his wife by using his hands on her shoulder to force her to sit down.

Manzanares recalled restraining his wife in the same way moments before the murder.

“Manzanares has a lengthy history of violent outbursts, (and) while many times it leads to the damage of property, that does not make it any less an incident of domestic violence,” prosecutors argued.

Bryan Wilson, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Alaska, said last week that the murder was not a random act of violence but a “chilling neglect for human life” for which Manzanares will remain behind bars into his 70s.

“While (the) sentence will not bring Kristy back to her family and friends, we hope it provides a sense of justice for this heinous crime and brings some closure to those who knew and cared about her,” Wilson said.