Wednesday, October 19, 1988

Officer Clarence Ratliff - Officer John Den Boer

On October 19, 1998 Officer Clarence Ratliff [Grand Rapids PD] shot and killed his ex-wife Judge Carol Irons in her chambers.

Officer Ratliff shot at officers John Den Boer and Daniel Ostopowicz, as they ran to help Judge Irons.

At Judge Irons' murder trial, the jurors found Officer Ratliff guilty of assault with intent to commit murder for his exchange of gunfire with Boer and Ostopowicz.

Ratliff received two life sentences for shooting at officers Den Boer and Ostopowicz.



Officer Clarence Ratliff's assault of first wife, while on duty [1975]

Officer Clarence Ratliff's murder of ex-wife Judge Carol Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer John Den Boer after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer Daniel Ostopowicz after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff sentenced for murder of Judge Carol Irons [1989]

Clarence Ratliff's sentence confirmed [1991]

Judge Irons' murderer requests to be freed from prison [2011]

Judge Irons' murderer, Clarence Ratliff dies in prison [2011]







Ex-Policeman Gets Two Life Terms for Slaying Wife, Firing at Officers
June 13, 1989
The Associated Press
Los Angeles Times
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-13/news/mn-2117_1_three-fellow-officers-circuit-judge-dennis-kolenda-third-officer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former policeman received two life prison sentences Monday for fatally shooting his estranged wife in her judicial chambers and firing at three fellow officers.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion when Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda announced his punishment for the Oct. 19 shootings at the Kent County Hall of Justice that claimed the life of District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40.

Kolenda told Ratliff that his punishment "must show that no one is above the law."

Kolenda's office was flooded with thousands of letters requesting that Ratliff receive the harshest penalty allowable after a jury May 11 convicted the former officer of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the city Police Department, had been charged with first-degree murder.

Kolenda said he stepped outside sentencing guidelines because of the crime's seriousness, its location, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

The former officer received the life sentences for his conviction on two counts of assault with intent to murder for shooting at two officers who came to Irons' aid.

Ratliff got 10 to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, as well as a term of from two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm, for shooting at a third officer. None of the officers were wounded. All the penalties were concurrent, except for a two-year sentence for using a firearm during commission of a felony.











GRAND RAPIDS JUDGE'S KILLER RECEIVES 2 LIFE PRISON TERMS
LISA PERLMAN Associated Press
June 13, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS -- Exceeding sentence guidelines to show that "no one is above the law," a judge Monday gave former police officer Clarence Ratliff two life prison terms for firing on other officers after killing his estranged wife, a district judge.

The heavy sentences followed outcry over Ratliff being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence, in the shooting of Judge Carol Irons last Oct. 19 at the Kent County Hall of Justice.

Judge Dennis Kolenda gave Ratliff 10 to 15 years on the manslaughter charge.

He imposed the two life terms for assault with intent to murder in the shoot-out with other police who were coming to help Irons.

Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion and declined to speak as he also was sentenced to a term of two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm for shooting at a third officer, and two years for the use of a firearm during commission of a felony. None of the other officers were hit in the shooting that followed Irons' death.

The Michigan Attorney General's office, which handled the prosecution, asked Kolenda to impose the maximum 25-to 40- year prison term in Michigan sentencing guidelines for assaults with intent to murder.

But Kolenda said he stepped outside the guidelines because of the seriousness of the crime, where it happened, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

"These sentences must show that no one is above the law," Kolenda told the 21-year police veteran. "You're one of those few people who have the ability to overcome a natural abhorrence of taking a life."

The judge noted that Ratliff will be eligible for parole in 10 years but said, "Most people sentenced to life are never paroled."

Kolenda's office had been flooded with thousands of pieces of mail requesting the harshest penalty possible after Ratliff was convicted May 11. About 1,200 people rallied outside the courthouse on May 31 in support of a stiff sentence for Ratliff.

Before the sentencing, Kolenda allowed friends, family and coworkers of Irons to address the court.

Manu urged the maximum penalty for Ratliff because they said he seemed to show no remorse over the incident.

"He used his manliness to try and justify the most unmanly behavior," Irons' parents, James and Virginia Irons, said through Irons' attorney and friend, Diann Landers.

Ratliff contended he did not intend to kill Irons, but was drunk and angry about a property dispute in their divorce proceedings.

Defense attorney Grant Gruel said no decision has been made on an appeal.








Ex-officer convicted in court slaying
Lewiston Daily Sun [Maine]
Friday, May 12, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A jury convicted an ex-police officer of voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the shooting death of his estranged wife, a district judge, in her judicial chambers.

Clarence Ratliff also was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to murder and one count of felonious assault, resulting from a shootout with fellow officers as Judge Carol Irons stumbled from her office on Oct. 19, 1988.

The 12-member District Court jury, which began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, also found him guilty of felony use of a firearm. Judge Dennis Kolenda said sentencing would be in three to four weeks.

Ratliff's attorney, Graut Gruel, argued that his 53-year-old client was very drunk and under such severe stress from his impending divorce he did not have the mental capacity to premeditate the killing.

"The only real choices in this case are a manslaughter conviction or acquittal," Gruel had said.

"We're obviously pleased with the verdict," Gruel said afterward. "It was obvious the jury felt stronger about shooting the police officers than shooting his wife."

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department who originally was charged with murder in Irons' death, showed little emotion when the verdict was read.

The manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison; the assault with intent charges, up to life imprisonment; felonious assault, four years, and the firearms charge, a mandatory two-year term.

Prosecutor Mark Blumer said he was both gratified and surprised by the verdicts.

"We're gratified that they [the jury] realized how serious the attack on the police officers was - it was an understandable verdict," he said. "The jury did the job they were called to do."

Blumer characterized Ratliff in closing arguments Wednesday as a "predatory animal" who stalked his wife before killing her.

Gruel had contended Ratliff was upset because he had just found out that Irons would not abide by the divorce settlement he believed they had agreed upon. He also was upset by her alleged affair with an old boyfriend, Gruel said.

Gruel had testified that something snapped in Ratliff's mind when Irons picked up her telephone and told a police dispatcher across the lobby that Ratliff was holding a gun to her head.

After she was shot, Irons ran out into the hallway, clutching her bleeding throat and Ratliff followed her firing another shot, police said.

Toxicologists have testified Ratliff's blood-alcohol level at the time of the shooting was about 0.25 percent, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication in Michigan.

Officer Clarence Ratliff - Officer Daniel Ostopowski

On October 19, 1998 Officer Clarence Ratliff [Grand Rapids PD] shot and killed his ex-wife Judge Carol Irons in her chambers.

Officer Ratliff shot at officers John Den Boer and Daniel Ostopowicz, as they ran to help Judge Irons.

At Judge Irons' murder trial, the jurors found Officer Ratliff guilty of assault with intent to commit murder for his exchange of gunfire with Boer and Ostopowicz.

Ratliff received two life sentences for shooting at officers Den Boer and Ostopowicz.



Officer Clarence Ratliff's assault of first wife, while on duty [1975]

Officer Clarence Ratliff's murder of ex-wife Judge Carol Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer John Den Boer after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer Daniel Ostopowicz after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff sentenced for murder of Judge Carol Irons [1989]

Clarence Ratliff's sentence confirmed [1991]

Judge Irons' murderer requests to be freed from prison [2011]

Judge Irons' murderer, Clarence Ratliff dies in prison [2011]







Ex-Policeman Gets Two Life Terms for Slaying Wife, Firing at Officers
June 13, 1989
The Associated Press
Los Angeles Times
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-13/news/mn-2117_1_three-fellow-officers-circuit-judge-dennis-kolenda-third-officer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former policeman received two life prison sentences Monday for fatally shooting his estranged wife in her judicial chambers and firing at three fellow officers.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion when Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda announced his punishment for the Oct. 19 shootings at the Kent County Hall of Justice that claimed the life of District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40.

Kolenda told Ratliff that his punishment "must show that no one is above the law."

Kolenda's office was flooded with thousands of letters requesting that Ratliff receive the harshest penalty allowable after a jury May 11 convicted the former officer of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the city Police Department, had been charged with first-degree murder.

Kolenda said he stepped outside sentencing guidelines because of the crime's seriousness, its location, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

The former officer received the life sentences for his conviction on two counts of assault with intent to murder for shooting at two officers who came to Irons' aid.

Ratliff got 10 to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, as well as a term of from two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm, for shooting at a third officer. None of the officers were wounded. All the penalties were concurrent, except for a two-year sentence for using a firearm during commission of a felony.











GRAND RAPIDS JUDGE'S KILLER RECEIVES 2 LIFE PRISON TERMS
LISA PERLMAN Associated Press
June 13, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS -- Exceeding sentence guidelines to show that "no one is above the law," a judge Monday gave former police officer Clarence Ratliff two life prison terms for firing on other officers after killing his estranged wife, a district judge.

The heavy sentences followed outcry over Ratliff being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence, in the shooting of Judge Carol Irons last Oct. 19 at the Kent County Hall of Justice.

Judge Dennis Kolenda gave Ratliff 10 to 15 years on the manslaughter charge.

He imposed the two life terms for assault with intent to murder in the shoot-out with other police who were coming to help Irons.

Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion and declined to speak as he also was sentenced to a term of two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm for shooting at a third officer, and two years for the use of a firearm during commission of a felony. None of the other officers were hit in the shooting that followed Irons' death.

The Michigan Attorney General's office, which handled the prosecution, asked Kolenda to impose the maximum 25-to 40- year prison term in Michigan sentencing guidelines for assaults with intent to murder.

But Kolenda said he stepped outside the guidelines because of the seriousness of the crime, where it happened, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

"These sentences must show that no one is above the law," Kolenda told the 21-year police veteran. "You're one of those few people who have the ability to overcome a natural abhorrence of taking a life."

The judge noted that Ratliff will be eligible for parole in 10 years but said, "Most people sentenced to life are never paroled."

Kolenda's office had been flooded with thousands of pieces of mail requesting the harshest penalty possible after Ratliff was convicted May 11. About 1,200 people rallied outside the courthouse on May 31 in support of a stiff sentence for Ratliff.

Before the sentencing, Kolenda allowed friends, family and coworkers of Irons to address the court.

Manu urged the maximum penalty for Ratliff because they said he seemed to show no remorse over the incident.

"He used his manliness to try and justify the most unmanly behavior," Irons' parents, James and Virginia Irons, said through Irons' attorney and friend, Diann Landers.

Ratliff contended he did not intend to kill Irons, but was drunk and angry about a property dispute in their divorce proceedings.

Defense attorney Grant Gruel said no decision has been made on an appeal.








Ex-officer convicted in court slaying
Lewiston Daily Sun [Maine]
Friday, May 12, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A jury convicted an ex-police officer of voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the shooting death of his estranged wife, a district judge, in her judicial chambers.

Clarence Ratliff also was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to murder and one count of felonious assault, resulting from a shootout with fellow officers as Judge Carol Irons stumbled from her office on Oct. 19, 1988.

The 12-member District Court jury, which began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, also found him guilty of felony use of a firearm. Judge Dennis Kolenda said sentencing would be in three to four weeks.

Ratliff's attorney, Graut Gruel, argued that his 53-year-old client was very drunk and under such severe stress from his impending divorce he did not have the mental capacity to premeditate the killing.

"The only real choices in this case are a manslaughter conviction or acquittal," Gruel had said.

"We're obviously pleased with the verdict," Gruel said afterward. "It was obvious the jury felt stronger about shooting the police officers than shooting his wife."

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department who originally was charged with murder in Irons' death, showed little emotion when the verdict was read.

The manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison; the assault with intent charges, up to life imprisonment; felonious assault, four years, and the firearms charge, a mandatory two-year term.

Prosecutor Mark Blumer said he was both gratified and surprised by the verdicts.

"We're gratified that they [the jury] realized how serious the attack on the police officers was - it was an understandable verdict," he said. "The jury did the job they were called to do."

Blumer characterized Ratliff in closing arguments Wednesday as a "predatory animal" who stalked his wife before killing her.

Gruel had contended Ratliff was upset because he had just found out that Irons would not abide by the divorce settlement he believed they had agreed upon. He also was upset by her alleged affair with an old boyfriend, Gruel said.

Gruel had testified that something snapped in Ratliff's mind when Irons picked up her telephone and told a police dispatcher across the lobby that Ratliff was holding a gun to her head.

After she was shot, Irons ran out into the hallway, clutching her bleeding throat and Ratliff followed her firing another shot, police said.

Toxicologists have testified Ratliff's blood-alcohol level at the time of the shooting was about 0.25 percent, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication in Michigan.

Officer Clarence Ratliff - Murdered Judge Carol Irons [Grand Rapids]


On October 19, 1988, Judge Carol Irons [Kent County] was gunned down in her chambers by her ex-husband, Officer Clarence Ratliff [Grand Rapids PD].

Ratliff was charged with first-degree murder. However, jurors delivered a verdict for only manslaughter and Ratliff was sentenced to 15 years for murdering Judge Carol Irons.

Misinformation over the years has lead people to believe that Officer Ratliff was sentenced to two life sentences for murdering Judge Irons, thus giving the public the wrong impression that justice was served by the jurors.

The jurors convicted Ratliff of attempted murder for his shooting at [and missing] the two police officers who came to Judge Irons' rescue on October 19th. Ratliff received a life sentence for each of the two officers  that he shot at.


The jurors are also upset that the verdict has been interpreted as a message about domestic violence and that a woman's life is considered less important than a man's. [Jurors Defend Decision In Slaying of Judge. The Argus-Press, Owosso MI. June 07, 1989]

"He was provoked into the shooting by the circumstances," juror Donald Wierenga Jr. said. [Ratliff Was Provoked Into Shooting Wife, Juror Says. The Argus - Press, Owosso MI. Monday, May 15, 1989]


...said another juror, "Then he went to his lawyer's office and found out she wouldn't agree to the settlement. All of that provoked him into doing it." [Ratliff Was Provoked Into Shooting Wife, Juror Says. The Argus - Press, Owosso MI. Monday, May 15, 1989]



This is the sentence Officer Clarence Ratliff received for murdering Judge Carol Irons, because of the jurors' verdict of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder:


Officer Clarence Ratliff's assault of first wife, while on duty [1975]

Officer Clarence Ratliff's murder of ex-wife Judge Carol Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer John Den Boer after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer Daniel Ostopowicz after killing Judge Irons [1988]

Officer Clarence Ratliff sentenced for murder of Judge Carol Irons [1989]

Clarence Ratliff's sentence confirmed [1992]

Judge Irons' murderer requests to be freed from prison [2011]

Judge Irons' murderer, Clarence Ratliff dies in prison [2011]














Clarence Ratliff's family was asking he be freed
Updated: Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 7:12 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 01 Jun 2011, 11:08 AM EDT
By Tony Tagliavia
http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/grand_rapids/Clarence-Ratliff-dies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - About a month after his family filed to have him released from prison because he was dying of cancer, a former Grand Rapids police officer who shot his wife in 1988 in her courthouse chambers died in a federal prison hospice unit, a prison officer told 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday.

Clarence Ratliff, 75, died Saturday morning at the unit inside the Butner Federal Correctional Complex in Butner, N.C., the officer said.

More than 22 years earlier, on Oct. 18, 1988, Ratliff entered the courthouse chambers of his wife -- Judge Carol Irons -- and shot her. Irons died.

Ratliff's family was asking that the 75-year-old be released from prison so he could spend his last days with them in his former home along the Muskegon River.

"The family's contention is, enough is enough," lawyer John Smietanka told 24 Hour News 8 last month. "He needs to die at home."

Smietanka said at the time that Ratliff was bed-ridden, could not speak and would not offend again.

But ultimately, the 75-year-old served the entire sentence handed down June 12, 1989, by then-Judge Dennis Kolenda: Life.

"You struck close to a mortal blow to the peace, dignity and safety of this community," Kolenda said during sentencing. "Then, when this community in the person of police officers came to the rescue of the person you had mortally wounded, you attempted to kill them. I can imagine no worse crime."

Ratliff and Irons were going through a divorce. The former officer's defense was that he was too drunk to have known what he was doing, according to archived 24 Hour News 8 reports. Ratliff was convicted of manslaughter for killing his wife and assault with intent to murder for shooting at the fellow officers who responded.

That prompted protests, with one speaker expressing outrage that "the murder of a woman is considered less serious than shooting at and missing two men."

The assault charges eventually led to the life sentence.

One of Irons' friends, lawyer Diann Landers, told 24 Hour News 8 that she believes this "is what life in prison means."

Another friend, Judge Sara Smolenski, said while she too opposed Ratliff's release, she does not find any joy or peace in his death.

"The whole experience has been just horrendous for her family, for their family," she said. "It's really never over because it's something you live with your whole life."

Smietanka called Ratliff's death the end to a very sad story.









Should Clarence Ratliff be allowed out of prison more than 22 years after he killed Judge Carol Irons?
The Grand Rapids Press
Published: Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 12:08 PM
Updated: Tuesday, May 10, 2011, 12:35 PM
By Barton Deiters The Grand Rapids Press The Grand Rapids Press
http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/05/from_the_comments_should_clare.html

The appeal on behalf of Cancer-stricken former Grand Rapids Police Officer Clarence Ratliff to be allowed to die outside prison has readers commenting online.

So far, the majority of comments have been opposed to the idea of freeing a man who killed his estranged wife -- Grand Rapids District Court Judge Carol Irons -- and then fired at fellow police officers as he tried to escape the former court house.

But there is a group who point out that although he was given a life sentence for shooting at police, he was convicted of manslaughter in Irons' killing and given a sentence of 17 years.

The question is whether Ratliff, now a 75 year-old man who spent the last 22 years behind bars should be allowed to die with his family.

Many of the readers posted variations on the sentiments of Keynote:
"Ratliff took an oath to "serve and protect," and then I assume he thought he was above the law. According to testimonies, it wasn't a spur of the moment thing, he had forethought. He is not the only prisoner who has become terminally ill in prison. Do you think that other prisoners are afforded release just because they're sick. "NO!" He may be remorseful now and even repentant, but that does not bring back the life of this woman. When he pulled that trigger, he himself made the choice of where he wanted to spend the rest of his life...sick or not."

Bluemoontwo frames the issue in stark terms:
"Still remember this tragic day, so many years later! What should he get respect and dignity for killing his wife? He sure didn't give that to her, he shot her with his hatred! So he is dying, he chose to do this terrible crime, let him rot in jail!"

But a few people believe that Ratliff is entitled to leave prison , including Ms. Rat:
"Clarence Ratliff was not convicted of murder, he was convicted of manslaughter. He has served 24 years in prison. He is not some backwoods murderer. He is a retired marine corp veteran, who served in Vietnam. He served on the Grand Rapids bomb squad for many years. He has served, protected, and saved many lives. I'm sure most of you writing these comments were not even born when this crime occurred. He has done more good in his life than you could even imagine. he does deserve to be treated like a human being. To the comments of him not looking sick in the photo... no kidding that picture is 25 years old.
HE HAS SERVED HIS TIME! HE IS NOT A THREAT TO ANYONE! HE DESERVES TO BE PAROLED!"

DeRadMan says there should be no special treatment for Ratliff, one way or the other:
"Seems to me that he was convicted of manslaughter and not 1st degree murder. He should be treated like others who were convicted of the same offense. I suspect parole is the norm by 22 years."














Murderer-former cop asks to die free
Clarence Ratliff dying of cancer
WoodTV8
Updated: Monday, 09 May 2011, 6:55 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 09 May 2011, 5:24 PM EDT
By Ken Kolker
http://www.woodtv.com/dpp/news/local/grand_rapids/Murderer-former-cop-asks-to-die-free

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - Twenty-two years after a Grand Rapids police officer shot and killed his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, he is dying of cancer.

And, now, Clarence Ratliff's family is asking the state to release him from prison, so he can spend his last few days in his former home on the Muskegon River, with family.

"If he gets through this year, it will be a miracle," said the family's attorney, former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the police department, was drunk on Oct. 18, 1988, when he burst into the chambers of his estranged wife at the old Hall of Justice and shot her with his 9 mm handgun. They were going through a divorce. She stumbled out of her chambers, clutching her neck, and later died.

He got up to 15 years for the death, after being convicted of manslaughter, but life in prison for shooting at the officers who responded. One of the officers was struck by shrapnel.

"He's sorry about what he did to his ex-wife, Judge Irons, and he will live with that -- he has lived with that for all these years," Smietanka said.

On Thursday, Smietanka asked the state for a medical commutation, which must be recommended by the Parole Board and approved by the governor.

"The family's contention is enough is enough; he needs to die at home," Smietanka said.

Ratliff, now 75, is in a federal prison hospital in North Carolina after doctors diagnosed him with cancer near his spine, which has spread to his lungs.

"Certainly, he is not going to offend again," Smietanka said. "He's in bed. He's bed-ridden, in a wheelchair. He can't speak. Today, he's got pneumonia. It's getting very close to the end."

Ratliff is getting support from more than just his family. Then-Kent Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda, who sentenced him, wrote the state two years ago, recommending it consider him for release.

John Den Boer, one of the Grand Rapids officers who exchanged gunfire with him, also has written to the state, asking for "compassion and mercy."

"It has been my understanding for a number of years that Clarence Ratliff has shown genuine remorse for what he did," Den Boer wrote. "I personally no longer hold any feeling of resentment for his actions, and I am convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that Clarence Ratliff is not a threat to me, to anyone else involved in the original incident, or to the public as a whole.

"It would be my request that Clarence Ratliff be given parole as soon as possible, to be with his family as he approaches death."

And, Smietanka said, former police Capt. Daniel Ostopowicz, the officer injured by shrapnel, has said he wouldn't oppose the release.

Smietanka said the commutation also would save taxpayers the expense of medical care. Ratliff would move in with his daughter, who lives on the Muskegon River, in West Michigan.

"His family will take over the burden, which is right now, on the state of Michigan and the federal government," he said.

Department of Corrections spokesman John Cordell said the parole board already was considering his release and is waiting for medical and psychological reports from federal prison before taking the next step. They expect those reports within days. He said the state only occasionally releases inmates based on medical reasons.

The state wouldn't release him without a public hearing, Cordell said.

Former friends of Irons, including 63rd District Judge Sara Smolenski, say they oppose the release.

"Mercy is something that wasn't provided to Carol when he shot her, and mercy wasn't provided to the police officers that he shot at when trying to escape when they were called," attorney Diann Landers said.

Landers keeps a photograph in her office of her and Irons the night her friend was elected Kent County's first female judge. They were not only friends, but Landers was her attorney in the judge's pending divorce case against Ratliff.

"He should do exactly what he was sentenced to do, live out his life in prison," she said. "If that means dying there, that's what it means."












Grand Rapids ex-cop who killed wife, and now is dying, gets support for release from prison
The Grand Rapids Press
Published: Monday, May 09, 2011, 7:46 AM
Updated: Monday, May 09, 2011, 11:12 AM
By Barton Deiters
http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2011/05/grand_rapids_ex-cop_who_killed.html

GRAND RAPIDS — More than 22 years have passed since city police Officer Clarence Ratliff went into the downtown office of his estranged wife, District Judge Carol Irons, pulled out a 9mm pistol and shot her to death.

Now, he is facing his mortality in a federal prison hospital, where he is dying from cancer.

In a race against time, supporters of Ratliff seek to move the state Parole Board along to release him on humanitarian grounds — a request that may end up needing support from Gov. Rick Snyder, according to attorney John Smietanka, a former federal prosecutor who is working with the supporters.

“He deserves a little dignity at the end of his life, a little peace,” said Steven Ratliff, a son from a previous marriage who lives in Alaska and has kept in contact with his father.

But for some of those close to Irons, the effort opens up old wounds.

After gunning down Irons on Oct. 19, 1988, Ratliff briefly exchanged gunfire with fellow officers in a hallway of the Hall of Justice before surrendering.

Ratliff ended up with a life sentence after he was convicted of manslaughter, shooting at police and illegal use of a gun. His action is often cited as one of the most infamous public crimes in the city’s history.

The hard-drinking cop who served on the major case team, motorcycle patrol and bomb squad now is 75 and has served about as much time in prison — in the federal system for safety reasons, because he is a former cop — as he did on the force. The man called “Rat” by friends could die at any time, his son said.

The younger Ratliff, 48, said the cancer was discovered on his father’s spine and then his lungs months ago. He has lost his voice, and even sitting in a wheelchair causes him pain.

A movement has begun to have him released so he does not have to die behind bars.

Norb Tuma, a retired manufacturer, has known Ratliff since the two served in the Marine reserves in the 1970s. He said that aside from his crime, Ratliff served his community as a soldier and policeman.

“Hell, he’s bedridden,” said the 67-year-old Tuma. “This guy is no risk to anyone.”

But letting him out finds no favor with some who remember Kent County’s first female jurist.

”When I’m outside enjoying a sunny day, one of the things that gives me a modicum of pleasure is knowing (Ratliff) is in prison and can’t enjoy these things,” said Diann Landers, who was Irons’ lawyer, campaign manager and close friend.

“There are a lot of people who do terrible things who go to prison, get sick and die,” said Landers, who now specializes in family law.

Ratliff first became eligible for parole in 2000 and has periodic reviews since then.

Former judge Dennis Kolenda is now in private practice, but he was a fresh face on the Kent County Circuit bench when he sentenced Ratliff.

Kolenda, who still may ability to veto a parole for any prisoner he sentenced, said he would not oppose release in Ratliff’s case.

“I wanted him to serve every day of the 17-year sentence he received for killing Carol Irons,” Kolenda said.

The current parole review began in February, and the state board is getting additional information from the federal prison in North Carolina, according to the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The board will be making a decision, but no time frame has been indicated.

Kent County District Judge Sara Smolenski, who claims Irons as both a close friend and a mentor, said she is still pained by the memory of the shooting.

Smolenski said a month before, while they dined at the Cottage Bar, Irons off-handedly said that if she was ever found dead, a warrant should be issued for Ratliff.

The two were separated and in the process of getting a divorce after a tumultuous marriage.

Ratliff was angry and had been drinking at West Side bars before he walked into the courthouse and shot his wife. In the days after, it was reported that Ratliff had sent Irons death threats.

Smolenski said she finds it hard to believe Ratliff deserves to be released. He confronted Irons in her chambers and shot her in the neck. She only had time to call police before dying.

“I think about how she never got the chance to be with her family when she died,” Smolenski said. “If we let him out, who is that for?”

Smolenski said she talked with Irons’ family for years after the trial, and they said Ratliff showed them no remorse. Irons’ mother, Virginia, died in 1992; her father, James, died in 2007; and her brother, Peter, died at 62 in 2008, according to the Arizona Secretary of State.

Ratliff is survived by three children and more than 10 grandchildren, some of whom visited him in prison within the last few weeks, according to Steven Ratliff.

Three supporters of Ratliff asserted the Parole Board is essentially sentencing him to die in prison. Former Wyoming Officer Michael Flynn, who retired and living in Texas and former Grand Rapids Officer George Pepper, now 73 and living up north, said it was not the intent of the judge or jury to deny such a release.

“It’s the human thing to do,” said John Robinson, a friend and motorcycle patrol partner, now retired. “There are so many victims in this: Carol Irons, her family and friends and the friends and family of (Ratliff).”

Ratliff’s son said release is just the moral thing to do.

”He made a terrible mistake a long time ago,” Steven Ratliff said. “But all the people who rush to oppose his release forget all the good he did.”













                   

Individuals honored for assisting victims of domestic violence
By MEGAN SCHMIDT
The Holland Sentinel
Posted Nov 01, 2009 @ 04:30 AM
http://www.hollandsentinel.com/news/x896784075/Individuals-honored-for-assisting-victims-of-domestic-violence

Holland, MI — For Kent County District Court Judge Sara Smolenski, the murder of a colleague 20 years ago highlighted the injustice domestic violence victims face in the court system.

When Judge Carol Irons was killed by her husband in 1989, the jury convicted her husband, a former police officer, of manslaughter, punishable by a maximum 15-year prison term.

For firing his gun at two police officers who intervened, he received an attempted murder conviction, carrying a maximum life sentence.

“He got less time for killing his wife than he did for shooting at the police,” Smolenski told the group who gathered at the “Together We Can” awards this week, where Smolenski was mistress of ceremonies.

The awards honored five individuals who have made outstanding contributions in their communities in assisting victims of domestic and sexual abuse. This year’s recipients included police officers, victim’s advocates and volunteers.

Smolenski said Irons’ murder demonstrates that domestic violence affects victims of all socioeconomic backgrounds — even people who are considered public figures in the community, like Irons, she said.

                   









State toughens up pay-to-stay program for prison inmates
The Argus-Press, Owosso MI
September 14, 1994
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - The accomidations may leave something to be desired, but an increasing number of state prison inmates are finding their bank accounts substantially depleted by the time they check out.

Since 1990, the number of lawsuits filed by the state seeking assets from prisoners under the nearly 60-year-old Prisoner Reimbursement Act has nearly reached 500.

The state attorney general's office collected more than $372,000 in the first months 10 months of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, under the reimbursement act. That compares with $197,000 collected in 1988.

The money pays for the program, and the excess goes into the state's general fund. At least 53 of the state's 83 counties have similar programs.

With a state prison operating a budget of about $1.2 billion a year, Attorney General Frank Kelley concedes that even the improved collection rates don't amount to a windfall. But, he said, it sends a message.

"Taxpayers like the idea that we are trying and don't allow prisoners to profit from their crimes," Kelley told the Grand Rapids Press in a story published Sunday. "It's an additional punishment."

But Louse Grabel contends the state treated her unfairly when it sought to seize 90 percent of her husband's $398 monthly General Motors Corp. pension checks after he was sentenced to prison in January for molesting a girl.

"I know my husband did wrong and he's paying for it, but I don't think it's right for the state to waltz in and take everything," said Grabel, 62, of Canton Township. "I wound up the scapegoat.

She settled the lawsuit two weeks ago, agreeing to give the state $1,800 so she could continue to collect her husband's pension check. She said she suffered a heart attack from the stress.

State officials say they back off on collection efforts if the convict can show his or her family will endure undue hardship.

"Our effort here is not to put their family members on the streets," said Assistant Attorney General Daniel M. Levy. But, he added, that in Grabel's case, "should she either die or hit the lottery, we'll be back."

Only a handful of state prisoners are targeted under the law. Michigan's prison population has averaged about 37,320 since 1990, yet only 405 lawsuits seeking prisoner assets have been resolved since then. Ninety cases are pending, according to statistics cited by the Press.

The state sued former Grand Rapids police Officer Clarence Ratliff, who was convicted of fatally shooting his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, in her courthouse chambers in 1988. It is collecting 60 percent of his $1,200-per-month police pension - a total of $38,000 so far from the pension and other assets.

To get a handle on who has money worth pursuing, the law was bolstered in 1984 to require incoming prisoners to disclose their assets. And corrections officials keep tabs on windfalls such as inheritance, income tax refunds, lawsuit or lottery winnings that go to inmates.

Inmates usually are not successful when arguing that the money was a gift and the gift-giver wants it back or that it came from a deceased family member who would not have wanted it to go to the state, Levy said.

"The 'this isn't fair' defense doesn't fare very well," he added.

                   










Ex-police officer sued by attorneys
Ludington Daily News
January 16, 1993
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - An ex-police officer convicted of killing his wife, a district judge, is being sued by his two attorneys for $80,610 in legal fees.

The suit, filed this week in Kent County Circuit Court, comes as a judge considers whether the state can seize 90 percent of Clarence Ratliff's pension to pay for his stay in a federal prison.

Ratliff, 56, was convicted in 1989 of fatally shooting his estranged wife, District Judge Carol Irons, in her courthouse chambers in 1988.

Ratliff, who will be eligible for parole in seven years, was transferred to the McKeon Federal Correctional Institution in Bradford, PA, after he received death threats from other inmates. Ratliff was an officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department at the time of the slaying.

Attorneys Grand Gruel and Brion Brooks continue to represent Ratliff in his attempt to keep the state from seizing his pension.

                   











Court Uphold conviction
Ludington Daily News
October 26, 1991
Lansing, Mich [AP] - A former Grand Rapids police officer has lost an appeal of his convictions in the shooting death of his estranged wife in her office in the Kent County Hall of Justice.

The Michigan Court of Appeals, in a ruling released Friday, rejected the request of Clarence Donald Ratliff for a new trial in connection with the Oct. 19, 1988, shooting of District Court Judge Carol Irons.

The 54-year-old former police officer was convicted in May 1989 of one count of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the judge's death. He was also convicted of two counts of assault with intent to murder in connection with shots fired a police officers who had come to her aid, one count of felonious assault and one count of felony firearm.

Ratliff is serving two life terms at the Marquette Branch Prison.

In his appeal, Ratliff maintained he was too drunk at the time of the shooting to intend to kill his wife.

But the appeals court noted that those who served drinks to Ratliff before the shooting testified that he did not appear visibly intoxicated. Ratliff also was able to go to the Hall of Justice, and find Irons in what appeared to be a normal manner.













Court of Appeals uphold conviction of cop for killing his wife, a judge
The Argus -Press, Owosso MI
October 25, 1991
Lansing [AP] - The Michigan Court of Appeals today upheld the conviction of a former Grand Rapids police officer in the shooting death of his wife, District Court Judge Carol Irons.

The three-judge panel rejected the request of Clarence Donald Ratliff for a new trial in connection with the incident.

Ratliff was convicted of one count of voluntary manslaughter in connection with the judge's death. He was also convicted of two countes of assault with intent to murder in connection with shots fired at police officers who had come to her aid, one count of felonious assault and one count of felony firearm.

He was sentenced to concurrent sentences of 10 to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, life imprisonment for each of the assault with intent to murder convictions and 32 to 48 months for the felonious assault convictions.

Those were to be served consecutively to the mandatory two-year felony-firearm sentence.

Ratliff maintained that he lacked the intent to commit the crimes because he had been drinking prior to the shooting.

But the appeals court noted that those who served Ratliff drinks before the shooting testified that he did not appear visibly intoxicated. Ratliff also was able to go to the Hall of Justice, and find Irons in what appeared to be a normal manner, the ruling said.

The court also rejected Ratliff's claim that the sentences were excessive in order to appease the community outrage over the shooting.

The court said the fact of the case, a police officer shooting a judge in a court house and then shooting at fellow officers - justified the stiff sentences.

"One could not imagine a much more severe set of circumstances for the crime of assault with intent to murder," the ruling said.












State can't seize killer's pension

The Argus-Press, Owosso MI
May 15, 1990
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A former police officer who killed his wife in her courtroom chambers can't be forced to use his $1,250 monthly pension to pay for his incarceration, a judge ruled.

The state attorney general's office filed suit against Clarence Ratliff and the Grand Rapids police and fire retirement system in February, seeking 90 percent of Ratliff's police pension to offset the cost of keeping him imprisoned.

On Oct. 19, 1988, Ratliff shot and killed his estranged wife, District Court Judge Carol Irons, in the Kent County Hall of Justice.

In a 10-page written opinion release Tuesday, Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda dismissed the state's claim, saying it does not have a right to Ratliff's pension.

Kolenda ruled the state's Correctional Facility Reimbursement Act, which provides a prisoner's non-exempt assets must be used to offset the cost of his incarceration, is superceded by a local ordinance and by the state Pension Act.

Those laws bar the seizure of pension benefits, except in case of delinquent child support or alimony.

"The state's claim against Mr. Ratliff's pension presents the judicial-legal eqvilant of an irresistable force meeting an immovable object," Kolenda wrote of the apparent conflict in the two laws.

Rules of the Pension Act must be followed because it is more specific and was enacted later than the Reimbursement Act, Kolenda said.

Ratliff, 54, was convicted of manslaughter in May 1989 for Ms. Irons' slaying and of assault with intent to murder for firing at two fellow officers who came to Ms. Irons' aid.

Ratliff is serving two life terms at the Marquette Branch Prison in the Upper Peninsula. The 22-year department veteran has been collecting pension checks since February 1989.

Kolenda said that while he favors having inmates pay room and board, it is up to the state Legislature to amend the Reimbursement Act to allow the state to seize pension for that purpose.

After being told of the judge's ruling, State Rep. Richard Bandstra, R-Grand Rapids and a member of the House Judiciary Committee said he intends to change the law.

"It seems there is a glitch in the law that was unintended and is something we ought to fix," Bandstra said.

                   










Judge was slain a year ago

The Argus - Press
October 18, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A year ago today, police officer Clarence Ratliff walked into the Kent County Hall of Justice just before noon and fatally shot his wife, District Judge Carol S. Irons.

It was an act that not only devistated the community, but called attention to the widespread problem of domestic violence.

Ratliff now is behind bars in the Upper Peninsula, and domestic violence groups in Grand Rapids are seeing more clients than ever.

"There's been an explosion of people needing support groups," said Carla Blinkhorn of the YWCA's Domestic Crisis Center.

She and others in the field attribute much of the increased awareness in such programs to the highly publicized case. Irons herself was active in programs aimed at preventing domestic violence.

Linnea Mitchell, who was in the Hall of Justice working on one such program moments before Irons was killed, said the case dramatized that educated, professional women also are victims of spousal abuse.

"I deal with people who have master's degrees and I have people who have never finished high school," said Mitchell, who works with the Kent County Victim-Witness Program.

Because of crowding at the Counseling Center, an umbrella for the YWCA's program, officials have had to refer 248 women to other shelters this year, compared with 76 in 1986.

More people have been volunterring to work in the shelters and centers, too, officials say.

Separate vigils are planned tonight in Grand Rapids and Friday in Holland to mark the anniversary of Irons' death.

Irons' close friend, Sara Smolenski, said friends and family "didn't want to let the day go by unmarked, and we thought we'd try to reflect on the good things in her life, on a celebration of the contributions she made in this community, as opposed to focusing on the sadness of the day."

Irons, 40, was awaiting her divorce decree from Ratliff when he walked into her office Oct. 19, 1988. He had been drinking all morning after finishing his overnight shift.

The 21-year police veteran, angry about an apparent conflict in the property settlement ending their four-year marriage, pulled out his 9mm semi-automatic pistol and shot her in the base of the neck, severing a major artery.

After a brief shootout with police in the hallway outside her chambers, Ratliff surrendered.

In May, a Kent County Circuit jury convicted Ratliff of manslaughter, shocking friends and family of Irons who had demanded prosecutors to pursue a first-degree murder charge.

Jurors said they chose the lesser 15-year felony partly because they believed Irons, who Ratliff said was cheating on him, had provoked her husband into shooting her during the few moments the two were alone in her chambers.

The same jury convicted Ratliff of assault with intent to murder for shooting at but not injuring the police officers who came to Irons' aid.

Ratliff is serving two life prison terms in a special segregation unit at Marquette Branch Prison, along with a concurrent 10 - to 15-year sentence for Irons' slaying.

Ratliff's lawyer is seeking a new trial.












Shots at police more costly act for wife-killer
Toledo Blade
Tuesday, June 13, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - Clarence Ratliff, a former Grand Rapids police officer, was sentenced yesterday for killing his wife as she sat in her judicial chambers and for shooting at two fellow officers who tried to help her.

Ratliff had been convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the Oct. 19 death of his estranged wife, District Judge Carole Irons, and two counts of assault with intent to murder for firing at the two officers.

On the manslaughter conviction, Judge Dennis Kolenda of Kent County Circuit Court sentenced Ratliff to 10 to 15 years, the maximum allowable. On the other two counts, Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids police department, received two life prison terms.

Judge Kolenda's office had been flooded with thousands of pieces of mail requesting the harshest penalty possible after Ratliff's conviction May 11. He had been charged with first-degree murder.

Ratliff contended he didn't plan to kill Judge Irons, but was drunk and angry about a property dispute in their divorce.

Defense attorney Grant Gruel said he hasn't decided if the conviction or sentence would be appealed. Ratliff, 53, will be eligible for parole in 10 years.

                   











Ex-officer gets jail in court shooting
The Pittsburgh Press
Tuesday, June 13, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. - A former police officer has received two life prison sentences for fatally shooting his estranged wife in her judicial chambers and firing at three fellow officers.

Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year police veteran, had been charged with first-degree murder. He was convicted May 11 of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Ratliff received the life sentences for his conviction on two counts of assault with intent to murder for shooting at two officers who came to the aid of District Judge Carol Irons. Neighter officer was wounded.

Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda said he stepped outside sentencing guidelines beacuse of the crimes' seriousness, its location, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community. Ratliff was off duty at the time of the shootings.











Ex-Policeman Gets Two Life Terms for Slaying Wife, Firing at Officers
June 13, 1989
The Associated Press
Los Angeles Times
http://articles.latimes.com/1989-06-13/news/mn-2117_1_three-fellow-officers-circuit-judge-dennis-kolenda-third-officer

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A former policeman received two life prison sentences Monday for fatally shooting his estranged wife in her judicial chambers and firing at three fellow officers.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion when Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda announced his punishment for the Oct. 19 shootings at the Kent County Hall of Justice that claimed the life of District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40.

Kolenda told Ratliff that his punishment "must show that no one is above the law."

Kolenda's office was flooded with thousands of letters requesting that Ratliff receive the harshest penalty allowable after a jury May 11 convicted the former officer of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the city Police Department, had been charged with first-degree murder.

Kolenda said he stepped outside sentencing guidelines because of the crime's seriousness, its location, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

The former officer received the life sentences for his conviction on two counts of assault with intent to murder for shooting at two officers who came to Irons' aid.

Ratliff got 10 to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, as well as a term of from two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm, for shooting at a third officer. None of the officers were wounded. All the penalties were concurrent, except for a two-year sentence for using a firearm during commission of a felony.











GRAND RAPIDS JUDGE'S KILLER RECEIVES 2 LIFE PRISON TERMS
LISA PERLMAN Associated Press
June 13, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI) GRAND RAPIDS -- Exceeding sentence guidelines to show that "no one is above the law," a judge Monday gave former police officer Clarence Ratliff two life prison terms for firing on other officers after killing his estranged wife, a district judge.

The heavy sentences followed outcry over Ratliff being convicted of voluntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum 15-year sentence, in the shooting of Judge Carol Irons last Oct. 19 at the Kent County Hall of Justice.

Judge Dennis Kolenda gave Ratliff 10 to 15 years on the manslaughter charge.

He imposed the two life terms for assault with intent to murder in the shoot-out with other police who were coming to help Irons.

Ratliff, 53, showed no emotion and declined to speak as he also was sentenced to a term of two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm for shooting at a third officer, and two years for the use of a firearm during commission of a felony. None of the other officers were hit in the shooting that followed Irons' death.

The Michigan Attorney General's office, which handled the prosecution, asked Kolenda to impose the maximum 25-to 40- year prison term in Michigan sentencing guidelines for assaults with intent to murder.

But Kolenda said he stepped outside the guidelines because of the seriousness of the crime, where it happened, public sentiment and Ratliff's position of trust in the community.

"These sentences must show that no one is above the law," Kolenda told the 21-year police veteran. "You're one of those few people who have the ability to overcome a natural abhorrence of taking a life."

The judge noted that Ratliff will be eligible for parole in 10 years but said, "Most people sentenced to life are never paroled."

Kolenda's office had been flooded with thousands of pieces of mail requesting the harshest penalty possible after Ratliff was convicted May 11. About 1,200 people rallied outside the courthouse on May 31 in support of a stiff sentence for Ratliff.

Before the sentencing, Kolenda allowed friends, family and coworkers of Irons to address the court.

Manu urged the maximum penalty for Ratliff because they said he seemed to show no remorse over the incident.

"He used his manliness to try and justify the most unmanly behavior," Irons' parents, James and Virginia Irons, said through Irons' attorney and friend, Diann Landers.

Ratliff contended he did not intend to kill Irons, but was drunk and angry about a property dispute in their divorce proceedings.

Defense attorney Grant Gruel said no decision has been made on an appeal.

                   











EX-POLICEMAN TO BE SENTENCED TODAY IN SLAYING
June 12, 1989 •• 246 words •• ID: 8901240733. Detroit Free PressGRAND RAPIDS -- (AP) -- Activists for battered women want Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda to give the maximum sentence today to a man convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of his estranged wife. On May 11, a jury acquitted Clarence Ratliff, a former police officer, of first-degree murder in the shooting of Judge Carol Irons in her chambers eight months ago. Ratliff, 53, testified that he was drunk and upset over their impending divorce and did not mean to kill Irons, 40.










Jurors Defend Decision In Slaying of Judge
The Argus-Press, Owosso MI
June 07, 1989
Grand Rapids, MI [AP] - Three weeks after a former police officer was convicted of manslaughter for killing his estranged wife, a district judge, jurors continue to receive nasty notes and telphone calls from an outraged community.

Friends and family of Judge Carol Irons, who was shot to death in her chambers last October, have held rallies and organized a letter-writing campaign to the sentencing judge to protest what they believe was a lenient verdict.

The jurors defend their verdict, saying some published accounts of Ratliff's previous behavior, such as other incidents of spouse abuse, were omitted from deliberations because that evidence was barred from the trial.

"Had we known some of the things we know now, I'm sure we would have come up with a different verdict," said Dave Sherman, one of the 12 jurors.

Juror Earl D. Wierenga tries to shrug off the phone call his wife received one night from a woman. "I hope your husband doesn't come home and blow you away some night," the stranger said.

Sherman and other jurors hope to see Ratliff get the maximum penalty allowed when he is sentenced June 12.

The maximum penalty for manslaughter is 15 years, but Ratliff could be sentenced to life imprisonment because the jury also convicted him on two counts of assault with intent to murder for shooting at two police officers who came to Irons' aid.

Sherman said he was shocked upon learning after the trial that the maximum penalty for manslaughter was less than that for assault with intent to murder.

"My personal opinion is that anybody who takes another person's life should spend the rest of his life in prison," Sherman said.

The jurors are also upset that the verdict has been interpreted as a message about domestic violence and that a woman's life is considered less important than a man's.

                   













Verdict in Estranged Wife's Killing Draws Protests
The New York Times
June 04, 1989
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE2D91F3AF937A35755C0A96F948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print

LEAD: The conviction of a former police officer for manslaughter rather than murder in the slaying of his estranged wife, a district judge, is drawing protests here.

The conviction of a former police officer for manslaughter rather than murder in the slaying of his estranged wife, a district judge, is drawing protests here.

The conviction of a former police officer for manslaughter rather than murder in the slaying of his estranged wife, a district judge, is drawing protests here.

A thousand people held a rally Wednesday to demand a harsh sentence for the defendant, Clarence Ratliff. He was acquitted May 11 of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Judge Carol Irons, but convicted of manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison.

The jury also convicted Mr. Ratliff of attempted murder, which carries a possible life prison sentence, for shooting at two officers who came to Judge Irons's aid.

''We are outraged that the murder of a woman is considered less serious than shooting at - and missing - two men,'' said Dotti Clune, an organizer of the Carol Irons Committee for Justice, who works with battered women.

Sherry Redding, a psychologist, told the rally, ''Carol Irons was not man-slaughtered; she was murdered.''

Judge Irons was known as a supporter of victims of domestic violence.

''Because Carol was a public figure, her death and the verdict have gotten a lot of attention,'' said Sara Smolenski, a Grand Rapids lawyer who was a close friend of the victim. ''But there are women every day being battered and killed - and we need to bring that out.''

The rally was held outside the Hall of Justice, where Mr. Ratliff shot his estranged wife to death on Oct. 19 in her District Court chambers. Mr. Ratliff, 53 years old, said he was drunk and upset about their impending divorce.

Besides organizing the rally Wednesday, the Carol Irons Committee has also begun a letter-writing campaign and petition drive, resulting in more than 1,000 letters to Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda, urging the maximum allowable prison term at Mr. Ratliff's sentencing on June 12.

Judge Kolenda said in a telephone interview that he was reading each of the letters. ''A judge has to walk a tightrope,'' he said. ''Some decisions must be made by the letter of the law and some decisions must take into account community sentiment.''

Michigan's Attorney General, Frank Kelley, has recommended that Mr. Ratliff be sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison because those sentenced to life imprisonment can be paroled sooner.

The crime and the perceived injustice of the verdict have ''struck a chord around the country,'' Ms. Clune said.

She said supporters traveled from Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Jackson and Lansing for the rally to protest the verdict and the growing problem of domestic violence.












Rally demands maximum term for judge's killer
Toledo Blade
Thursday, June 01, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - Nearly 1,000 people turned out at a rally to express outrage at a jury's verdict of manslaughter against a police officer who fatally shot his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, in her chambers.

The Carol Irons Committee for Justice, formed after the May 11 conviction of Clarence Ratliff, also has mounted a letter-writing campaign and petition drive to urge Judge Dennis Kolenda of Kent County Circuit Court to impose the maximum allowable sentence at Ratliff's June 12 sentencing.

"Part of the sentencing process is to measure the impact of a crime on the community. And this crime - and then this slap-on-the-hand verdict - has shocked this community," said Dotti Clune, who organized the rally yesterday.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids police department, was charged with first-degree murder for shooting Judge Irons to death in her judicial chambers last October.

During the trial, Ratliff, 53, testified he was drunk and under severe stress because of Judge Irons' alleged infidelity and that he did not intend to kill her when he entered her chambers and shot her once in the throat. The couple's divorce was about to be made final.

While Ratliff can be sentenced to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, he faces a possible life sentence because he also was convicted of assault with intent to kill for shooting at two fellow police officers who came to Judge Irons' aid.












1,000 Protest Conviction
Argus Press, Owosso MI
June 01, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich [AP] - A thousand people angered over an ex-police officer's manslaughter conviction for the courthouse slaying of his estranged wife, a district judge, rallied in support of a stiff sentence.

A jury acquitted Clarence Ratliff of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Judge Carol Irons, instead convicting him of manslaughter, a 15-year felony.

The jury convicted the 21-year police veteran of attempted murder, which carries a possible life prison sentence, for shooting at two officers who came to Irons' aid.

We are outraged that the murder of a woman is considered less serious than shotting at - and missing - two men," Dotti Clune told 1,000 protesters Wednesday.

The rally was held outside the Hall of Justice, where Ratliff shot Irons to death Oct. 19 in her district court chambers. Ratliff, 53, Grand Rapids police veteran, said he was drunk and upset about their impending divorce.

"Carol Irons was not manslaughtered. She was murdered," said speaker Sherry Redding, a psychologist.

The group formed after the May 11 conviction, also mounted a letter writing campaign and petition drive, resulting in more than 1,000 letters to Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda, urging the maximum allowable prison term at Ratliff's June 12 sentencing.

"Part of the sentencing process is to measure the impact of a crime on the community. And this crime - and then this slap-on-the-hand verdict - has shocked this community," said Clune, an organizer of the Carol Irons Committee for Justice.

Kolenda said he was reading each of the letters.

"A judge has to walk a tightrope. Some decisions must be made by the letter of the law and some decisions must take into account community sentiment," he said following the rally.

During the trial, Ratliff testified he was under severe stress because of Irons' alleged infidelity and that he did not intend to kill her when he entered her chambers and shot her once in the throat. The couple's divorce was about to be made final.

Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly had recommended that Ratliff be sentenced to 25 to 40 years in prison because those sentenced to life imprisonment can be paroled after 10 years.

The crime and the perceived injustice of the verdict have "struck a chord around the country," Clune said.

She and supporters traveled from Kalamazoo, Muskegon, Jackson and Lansing for the rally to protest the verdict and increasing problem of domestic violence.
 












1,200 PROTEST VERDICT IN JUDGE'S DEATH
JOE SWICKARD
June 1, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS --About 1,200 people shouting "Outrage!" to protest the manslaughter verdict in the fatal shooting of District Judge Carol Irons rallied Wednesday outside the Kent County Hall of Justice where she was slain by her police officer husband almost eight months ago.

"Carol Irons was not man-slaughtered -- she was murdered," said speaker Sherry Redding, a psychotherapist.

The rally, called by the Carol Irons Committee for Justice, urged Kent Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda to impose a stern sentence upon Clarence Ratliff, 53, who killed Irons, his estranged wife, and shot at fellow police officers who rushed to the judge's assistance.

Demonstrators carried signs with Irons' photograph and the caption "Justice For Carol Irons. 1948-1988," and others proclaiming "We Are Provoked," "No More Happy Hours For Ratliff" and "We Want Rat's A--," a reference to Ratliff's nickname in the police department.

More than 1,000 signatures were collected on petitions Wednesday, organizers said, and as many as 500 cards and letters a day are being sent to Kolenda prior to Ratliff's June 12 sentencing.

Irons, 40, was shot in her chambers Oct. 19 by Ratliff as the couple's divorce was becoming final. After his arrest, Ratliff's blood alcohol level was recorded at 0.25 percent, about 2 1/2 times the level for drunken driving.

Despite threatening skies, Wednesday's noontime rally filled the court plaza in downtown Grand Rapids with participants to hear calls for a stronger stand against domestic violence. Speaker after speaker assailed the jury verdict that reduced the first-degree murder count against Ratliff for killing Irons, but found him guilty of assault with intent to murder for shooting at the other officers.

Under Michigan law, manslaughter carries a maximum 15-year prison term, but the assault count carries a maximum sentence of any term of years up to life.

"We are outraged that shooting and killing a woman is considered less serious than shooting -- and missing -- two men," said committee member Dotti Clune. "The message is clear that we will not tolerate domestic violence . . . a slap-on- the-wrist verdict has outraged this entire community," Clune said.

After the trial, several jurors said they felt Ratliff was provoked because he believed Irons was having an affair while he suffered sexual dysfunction.

Leslie Newman, of the Grand Rapids YWCA domestic violence shelter, said Wednesday that Irons was just the most visible of seven women killed in domestic violence in Kent County since 1988.

Barry Castro, a business ethics instructor at Grand Valley State University, said the manslaughter verdict shocked him, a feeling he said was reinforced "even more so now that I've found out that it's so typical."

Singer-songwriter Terri Bussey sang a ballad of the killing, "Don't It Make You Outraged?" as the members of the crowd shouted back a responsive chorus of "Outrage!"

Committee member Charlotte Ellison said that "the issue today is not vengeance . . .it is justice."

Those gathered, Ellison said, were not there to "mourn losses, but to see that no more losses occur. . ..We are here today to set the standard. There should be zero tolerance for domestic violence."

                   













Verdict strikes another blow against women
Spokane Chronicle
Ellen Goodman - Boston Globe
Sunday, May 28, 1989
In Grand Rapids last week, there was talk of renaming the district courthouse. Some people in the Michigan city hope to dub it the Carol S. Irons Hall of Justice.

They want to turn this public place into a site for her honor and their anger. After all, this is where Carol S. Irons became the first female judge in Kent County in 1982. This is where she married Clarence Ratliff, a police officer, out on the lawn in 1984. And this is where she was shot to death, in her chambers, by her estranged husband, in 1988.

Here too, the judge used to invite kids in for a talk, because she said, "I think schoolgirls ought to have professional women as role models." Now, dead at 40, she has become a very different sort of female role model: a victim. She has become Anywoman who ever "provoked" a man into murder.

To this distant ear, the marriage between Judge Irons and Officer Ratliff sounds like a chapter out of "Smart Women, Foolish Choices." A second marriage for both of them, it didn't last long, and was followed by a rancorous separation.

But that all ended on Oct. 20, 1988, when Ratliff finished a 10-hour police shit, hit a few bars, went to the courthouse, and shot Irons dead. After a gun battle with the police, he said, "I just couldn't take the bitch anymore."

The man was predictably accused of first-degree murder. But on May 11, he was convicted of a much lesser crime: voluntary manslaughter. He faces a stiffer sentence for shooting and missing the police than for shooting and killing his wife.

The jurors decided that Ratcliff was under too much alcohol and "stress" to intend murder. More to the point, as one juror said, "Everybody felt he was provoked by his wife to do this. First of all, she went out with other men. Then he was having trouble sexually and I imagine she rubbed that in to him. Then he went to the lawyer's office and found out she wouldn't agree to the settlement. All of that provoked him into doing it.

An outraged friend of the judge, Noralee Carrier Potts, calls this "the bitch-deserved-it-defense." But, to be as frank as Carol Irons would have been, there is nothing unuusal about this case. Indeed, if the victim had not been a judge, the case might have passed unnoticed.

The notion that men snap into viciousness under "stress", the notion that women provoke their own abuse, even murder, is just that ingrained.

In New York this spring, a judge sentenced Dong Lu Chen to five years' probation after he beat his wife to death with a hammer. The man cracked, said the judge, adding: "He was the product of his culture." The man was Chinese, the wife was unfaithful.

In Illinois, in 1984, Judge Lutgen strangled his wife in front of their children "because" she refused to go Christmas shopping. It was only hours after she had filed for divorce and obtained a court order of protection.

After serving 20 months in jail, Lutgen came out, sued for and won custody of the kids. An appellate court agreed in January that he was a "fit and proper person" to have care of minors.

According to the national figures, 1,500 women were murdered by their husband or boyfriend in 1986. That's nearly 3 a day. Another study says that these men serve an average of two to six years. In rape cases it's easier to get a conviction against a stranger than an acquaitance. You can be more certain she didn't "ask for it,". This seems true for murder as well.

John S. Mack, the right-hand man of Jim Wright, was just forced to resign because 17 years ago, he hammered and slashed an unknown woman who came to a store to buy some window blinds. He served 27 months.

Last week in Grand Rapids, the men in Ratliff's motorcycle club, the Dillywackers, were saying to reporters, "If there were 10,000 Clarence Ratliff's, all the communists would dig holes and bury themselves." In Grand Rapids, women were saying to each other, "If it can happen to a judge..."

And in Grand Rapids, the judge's friends were coming together, "We have a right to expect zero tolerance toward domestic violence," said Noralee Currier Potts. "There is no acceptable excuse. Not alcohol. Not adultery. There's no provocation for murder." Write it on the walls of the Carol S. Irons Hall of Justice.
 
 





 







 
 

















GROUP CALLS VERDICT LIGHT IN KILLING OF JUDGE
Associated Press and United Press International
May 18, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS --A group called the Carol S. Irons Committee for Justice has been formed to protest the manslaughter conviction of an ex-police officer in the Oct. 19 death of his estranged wife, district judge Carol S. Irons.

"It appears that because Clarence Ratliff killed a woman who had been his wife, that somehow that's going to be excused," committee spokeswoman Dotti Clune said Wednesday, "and our message is there is no excuse for murdering a woman."

Ratliff, 53, a 21-year police veteran, originally was charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Irons, 40. But the jury rejected that charge -- punishable by a mandatory life prison term without parole -- and convicted him of voluntary manslaughter in her death. The jury also convicted him of assault with intent to commit murder in an exchange of shots with police who tried to help Irons. He can be sentenced to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction and a life term on the other, but parole is possible. He is to be sentenced within six weeks by Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda.

The committee said the verdicts send a message that shooting police is more serious than killing a spouse.

The group has begun a letter-writing campaign to Kolenda and is asking church and school groups to become involved. About 30 sympathizers gathered Wednesday outside the Hall of Justice, where the shootings occurred and where the couple was wed in a 1983 outdoor ceremony.

Ratliff's lawyer contended during the trial that Ratliff was drunk and in such stress over Irons' alleged infidelities and purported opposition to a property settlement that he could not form the legal intent to kill her.

Sara Smolenski, a lawyer and friend of Irons, said, "We want to let the community know that there are a lot of people who don't feel the way the jury did."

Clune said many people now think that "this building really represents a hall of injustice.

"We want this building to be the Carol S. Irons Hall of Justice."












Jury Decision Protested
The Argus -Press, Owosso MI
Thursday, May 18, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich [AP] A jury said it's OK for a man to kill his wife when it convicted an ex-policeman of manslaughter, rather than murder, for the courthouse slaying of Judge Carol irons, protesters say.

About 30 people demonstrated Wednesday outside the Hall of Justice here to protest last week's conviction of Clarence Ratliff, an ex-police officer who shot his estranged wife to death in her District Court chambers, Oct. 19.

The Carol S. Irons Committee for Justice called for the maximum penalty for Ratliff, who was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for shooting Irons and attempted murder for firing at two police officers.

Ratliff could be sentenced to 15 years in prison for the manslaughter conviction. For shooting at but missing the officers called to the scene of the slaying, he faces possible life imprisonment.

He will be sentenced in three to six weeks by Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis C. Kolenda.

Ratliff originally was charged with first-degree murder, punishable by mandatory life imprisonment, in Irons' slaying.

The jury rejected the murder charged, commenting afterwards that Irons had provoked Ratliff.

"This decision is going to be very closely scrutinized on a wide basis, and we want him to know that there is public support for the maximum sentencing," coalition spokeswoman Dotti Clune said Wednesday.

"It appears that because Clarence Ratliff killed a woman who had been his wife, that somehow that's going to be excused," she said. "Our message is, there is no excuse for murdering a woman."

The verdict also sent a message that shooting at police officers is more serious than killing a spouse, coalition members said.

The group has asked church and school groups to join in its letter-writing campaign to Kolenda.

"We want to let the community know that there are a lot of people who don't feel the way the jury did," lawyer Sara J. Smolenski, a close friend of Irons, said Tuesday during a coalition meeting.

The group is planning a program and silent vigil May 31 in front of the Hall of Justice in downtown Grand Rapids, including three or four minutes of silence just after noon to note the time of the killing.

"Right now, I think there are many people in this community who think that this building really represents the hall of injustice," Clune said. "When you look at Carol Irons' killing and the jury's verdict, we would like to change that.

We want this building to be the Carol S. Irons Hall of Justice.













Ratliff Was Provoked Into Shooting Wife, Juror Says
The Argus - Press, Owosso MI
Monday, May 15, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - Jurors who convicted Clarence Ratliff of manslaughter say they weren't convinced that he meant to kill his estranged wife, Judge Carol Irons.

"Nobody was there in her chambers except Mr. Ratliff and Judge Irons," said juror Donald Wierenga Jr., "So we couldn't say it was proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to kill her."

Wierenga and other jurors who convicted Ratliff on Thursday also said the veteran Grand Rapids police officer was "provoked" into gunning Irons down outside her courthouse office.

"He was provoked into the shooting by the circumstances," Wierenga said.

"First of all, she went out with other men. Then he was having trouble sexually, and I imagined she rubbed that into him," said another juror, who spoke to the Grand Rapids Press on the condition of anonymity. "Then he went to his lawyer's office and found out she wouldn't agree to the settlement. All of that provoked him into doing it."

Ratliff also was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to commit murder and one count of felonious assault. Those charges stemmed from a shootout with his fellow officers as Irons stumbled from her office on Oct 19, 1998. Ratliff was also convicted of felony use of a firearm.

Wierenga, a factory owner and former corporate law attorney, said the first-degree murder charged never was seriously considered by a majority of jurors.

The manslaughter conviction means Ratliff no longer faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. Manslaughter carries a maximum 15-year penalty.

But Ratliff still can be sentenced up to life in prison - with the possibility of parole - because of the 21-year police veteran's assault with intent to murder convictions.

"It's interesting they had a heavier finding against him for shooting at the officers than against his own wife," said Grant Gruel, Ratliff's attorney.

The focus of the three-week trial centered on Ratliff's mental state when he shot Irons in her chambers. Gruel contended Ratliff's intoxication and stress from the breakup of his marriage left him unable to premeditate the killing.

Jurors agreed Ratliff was severly affected by his suspicions that Irons was having an affair and by a blood-alcohol level that may have been as high as 0.25 percent at the time of the shooting, more than twice the level of legal intoxication.

"The alcohol and the other stresses played a major role in the lack to form intent," juror David T. Sherman said.











Prosecutors, Defense Pleased with Verdict
Argus - Press, Owosso MI
Friday, May 12, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A jury in the murder trial of a former police has found him guilty on a reduced charge of manslaughter for gunning down his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, in her courthouse office.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers praised the voluntary manslaughter verdict reached Thursday by a Kent County Circuit Court jury that also found Clarence Ratliff guilty on two counts of assault and intent to murder and one count of felonious assault.

The 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department had faced an open murder charge and the possibility of life in prision without possibility of parole.

The assault charges stemmed from a shootout with his fellow officers as Irons stumbled from her office on Oct. 19, 1988. Ratliff also was convicted of use of a firearm in a felony.

"We're obviously pleased with the verdict," defense attorney Grant Gruel said. "It was obvious the jury felt stronger about shooting the police officers than shooting his wife.

"We're gratified that they [the jury] realized how serious the attack on the police officers was - it was an understandable verdict," said prosecuting attorney Mark Blumer. "The jury did the job they were called to do."

Them manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison; the assault with intent charges, up to life imprisonment; felonious assault, four years, and the firearms charge, a mandatory two-year term.











Ex-officer convicted in court slaying
Lewiston Daily Sun [Maine]
Friday, May 12, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A jury convicted an ex-police officer of voluntary manslaughter Thursday in the shooting death of his estranged wife, a district judge, in her judicial chambers.

Clarence Ratliff also was convicted of two counts of assault with intent to murder and one count of felonious assault, resulting from a shootout with fellow officers as Judge Carol Irons stumbled from her office on Oct. 19, 1988.

The 12-member District Court jury, which began deliberations Wednesday afternoon, also found him guilty of felony use of a firearm. Judge Dennis Kolenda said sentencing would be in three to four weeks.

Ratliff's attorney, Graut Gruel, argued that his 53-year-old client was very drunk and under such severe stress from his impending divorce he did not have the mental capacity to premeditate the killing.

"The only real choices in this case are a manslaughter conviction or acquittal," Gruel had said.

"We're obviously pleased with the verdict," Gruel said afterward. "It was obvious the jury felt stronger about shooting the police officers than shooting his wife."

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department who originally was charged with murder in Irons' death, showed little emotion when the verdict was read.

The manslaughter conviction carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison; the assault with intent charges, up to life imprisonment; felonious assault, four years, and the firearms charge, a mandatory two-year term.

Prosecutor Mark Blumer said he was both gratified and surprised by the verdicts.

"We're gratified that they [the jury] realized how serious the attack on the police officers was - it was an understandable verdict," he said. "The jury did the job they were called to do."

Blumer characterized Ratliff in closing arguments Wednesday as a "predatory animal" who stalked his wife before killing her.

Gruel had contended Ratliff was upset because he had just found out that Irons would not abide by the divorce settlement he believed they had agreed upon. He also was upset by her alleged affair with an old boyfriend, Gruel said.

Gruel had testified that something snapped in Ratliff's mind when Irons picked up her telephone and told a police dispatcher across the lobby that Ratliff was holding a gun to her head.

After she was shot, Irons ran out into the hallway, clutching her bleeding throat and Ratliff followed her firing another shot, police said.

Toxicologists have testified Ratliff's blood-alcohol level at the time of the shooting was about 0.25 percent, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication in Michigan.











Guilty in slaying

Toledo Blade
Friday, May 12, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. - A jury in the murder trial of a former police officer has found the defendant guilty on a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter for fatally shooting his wife, District Judge Carol Irons.

The verdict was reached yesterday by a Kent County Circuit Court jury that also found Clarence Ratliff guilty on two counts of assault with intent to murder and one count of felonious assault. Judge Irons was salin on Oct. 19, 1988.











EX-COP GUILTY OF MANSLAUGHTER IN DEATH
Associated Press and United Press International
May 12, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS --A jury Thursday convicted a former police officer of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting of his estranged wife, District Judge Carol Irons, in her judicial chambers.

Clarence Donald Ratliff, 53, also was convicted of assault with intent to murder, resulting from a shoot-out with police as Irons stumbled from her office in Kent County's Hall of Justice on Oct. 19.

Irons, 40, died minutes after suffering a single wound from a 9mm pistol to the throat. Ratliff went on trial April 24 on a first-degree, premeditated, murder charge.

A nine-man, three-woman Kent County Circuit jury deliberated 5 1/2 hours over two days before also convicting Ratliff of felony use of a firearm. Judge Dennis Kolenda said sentencing would be in three to four weeks.

Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department, had shown almost no emotion throughout the trial. When the manslaughter verdict was read, he smiled wanly, while relatives and friends of Irons gasped, then sobbed through the rest of the brief court procedure.

"We're obviously pleased with the verdict," defense attorney Grant Gruel said. "It was obvious the jury felt stronger about shooting the police officers than shooting his wife."

Prosecuting attorney Mark Blumer said, "We're gratified" that jurors "realized how serious the attack on the police officers was -- it was an understandable verdict."

Blumer characterized Ratliff in closing arguments Wednesday as a predatory animal who had stalked his wife. Gruel had contended Ratliff was upset because he had found out through his attorney that Irons would not abide by a divorce settlement he believed they had agreed upon. He also was upset by Irons' alleged affair with an old boyfriend, Gruel said.

Gruel had argued that Ratliff was intoxicated and under such severe stress from the impending divorce that he did not have the mental capacity to premeditate the murder.

Toxicologists testified Ratliff's blood-alcohol level at the time of the shooting was about 0.25 percent, more than twice the legal limit for intoxication in Michigan.

Ratliff faces a possible life prison sentence on the assault counts, but parole is possible. Had he been convicted of first-degree murder, he would have faced mandatory life in prison without parole. The manslaughter conviction carries a maximum 15-year penalty.











MURDER OF JUDGE:BITTER TALE OF DIVORCE
GRAND RAPIDS TRIAL MAY GO TO JURY SOON
JOE SWICKARD Free Press Staff Writer
May 8, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS --The marriage of Clarence Ratliff and Carol Irons began with vows of love on the Hall of Justice lawn. It ended four years later inside the same courthouse with a single 9mm slug to the base of Irons' neck.

"The only difference between this and any other domestic homicide is the place and the players," said defense lawyer Grant Gruel. "It's not often that a cop marries a judge and then kills her in her chambers."

For two weeks, Grand Rapids has been transfixed by the first-degree murder trial of Ratliff -- "Rat" to his friends, a hard-drinking police officer and Marine Corps Reserve gunnery sergeant -- in the Oct. 19, 1988, shooting of District Judge Irons -- a sharp-tongued advocate of liberal causes and the first woman jurist ever elected in Kent County.

If the 1984 courthouse lawn wedding of the burly cop and the petite, 4-foot-8 judge seemed the stuff of television movies, the trial is a sorry tale of withered dreams and bitterness ending in a drunken, bloody killing.

"What led up to this tragedy is a good divorce case, but not an excuse to kill someone," said state Assistant Attorney General Mark Blumer, who is prosecuting the case because of the Kent County prosecutor's ties to Irons and Ratliff. "All that has been put out as excuses is really motive for murder."

The gist of the case, which Kent Circuit Judge Dennis Kolenda said will go to the jury Wednesday, is that Ratliff got off duty at 7 a.m. that Oct. 19, spent the morning drinking shots of Jim Beam bourbon, and then killed his estranged wife. He exchanged shots with other officers before surrendering.

Ratliff's blood-alcohol level five hours after the shooting was 0.14 percent, well above the 0.10 percent threshold for a drunken driving charge.

Blumer contends that Ratliff, 53, drank to get the nerve to kill, but chickened out at the last moment in his plan to die in a shoot-out.

But Gruel counters that Ratliff, too drunk to form a plan -- a necessary element of first-degree murder -- killed Irons in an instant of unthinking anger after years of galling frustration.

Ratliff, testifying Thursday, said he recalled only scattered impressions of the fatal meeting.

He recalled in greater detail the five-year courtship between two people hurt by earlier failed marriages.

"I didn't want to go through a divorce again," Ratliff said.

Not mentioned in the trial is a 1975 incident from his first divorce. While in uniform, Ratliff broke into the home of his estranged wife, Olga, and pistol-whipped her before being taken out by other officers. He said he planned to kill her and himself, but lost his nerve, according to prosecution arguments in the court without the jury present.

Judge Kolenda barred testimony of the incident because it was too old and prejudicial, despite Blumer's argument of the "startling similarities."

Of his marriage to Irons, Ratliff said, "It seemed like we had a lot of fun the first couple of years."

His bachelor, roughing-it hunting cabin in Stanwood on the Muskegon River was remodeled and improved into a comfortable weekend cottage for them.

But there was a chill of change and suspicion.

Irons' brother, Peter, a recovering alcoholic, said his sister stopped drinking and broke the old social routine of drinking with Ratliff and his pals. Ratliff continued drinking. He and Irons took separate vacations.

Ratliff said he was getting needled by his fellow cops because Irons would pick up his paycheck, and that his wife blistered him in arguments with her sharp tongue and quick mind. He also said he was suffering sexual dysfunction.

He suspected a class reunion she attended in Georgia in 1987 was a rendezvous with an old boyfriend. He said he verified it through telephone bills.

That year, Ratliff bugged their home telephone line before going to Utah for his summer of active military duty with the Marines.

Ratliff said the wiretap showed "that Carol and John (her old boyfriend) were lovers while we still were married." Taped conversations were "explicit . . . telling what they would do when they got together again," he said.

Ratliff said he later retreated to the cabin and "drank a lot."

The tapes continued to roll and in late August he discovered she was planning a trip to Niagara Falls to see her old boyfriend again.

Irons filed for divorce in early 1988 and, according to Ratliff, agreed to make the payments on the cottage.

The morning of Oct. 19, 1988, was rainy as he got off duty from the overnight shift, and Ratliff said he decided to wait before tackling the 53-mile drive to the cabin, where he had been living.

He was wearing jeans, a motorcycle jacket and a 9mm semiautomatic pistol.

He hit a bar where several other off-duty cops and sheriff's deputies were gathered about 7:30 a.m. Soon they were buying each other rounds.

Either just before or just after going to a second bar -- the exact scenario is unclear -- Ratliff stopped by his lawyer's office to check on the divorce.

There he saw a letter from Irons' lawyer saying Irons would not pay for the cabin after the divorce and wanted him to buy out her interest.

Prosecutor Blumer said Ratliff knew he would lose the cabin without Irons' salary and decided to settle accounts for good.

But Ratliff insisted he had no plan: "I think I was upset but I told my attorney go ahead and process the papers. I just wanted to get it over with."

There was a stop at a third bar, which Ratliff said he doesn't recall, but by noon he was in Irons' chambers.

"I have the impression or feeling that we had an argument," he said. It was "slowed down, slow motion like waiting for an accident to happen," he said. "I was looking at me and I was holding a gun on her."

At 12:07 p.m., Irons hit an alarm button and told the police dispatcher that her husband was drunk and had a gun to her head "even as we speak."

Ratliff said "the gun went off," but he does not remember shooting.

Clutching her neck as an artery pumped jets of blood, Irons bolted into the hallway, followed by Ratliff. Officers yanked Irons aside and exchanged shots with Ratliff before he retreated into the chambers.

On the stand, Ratliff said it was a flashback to his SWAT team training: "All I could think of was here come the good guys after the bad guy."

He surrendered in a few minutes, saying, "I just couldn't take the bitch anymore," a sheriff's deputy said. Ratliff testified he does not remember making the statement.

Outside court, Peter Irons said he is distressed by Ratliff's defense: "My sister is being put on trial and not able to defend herself."

Defense lawyer Gruel said he is exploring her personality "as an issue because it's a stress factor in what happened."

The key to understanding Ratliff, Gruel said, is seeing him as "the Marlboro Man, a John Wayne-type guy who finally broke."

The drinking and stress should reduce the murder to a lesser charge or an acquittal, Gruel said.

Peter Irons disagrees.

"I have a problem with the idea that a person who drives while intoxicated goes to jail but a person who shoots his wife is exonerated," he said. "As a recovering alcoholic, I always understood I was still responsible for what I did when I was drunk. I expect the same of Ratliff."

                   













Former Officer 'Doesn't Recall' Killing His Wife
The Argus-Press, Owosso MI
May 04, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - An ex-police officer accused of killing his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, says he thought he was playing the "bad guy" in a police drill when he saw his fellow officers come after.

"The only thing I could think of was, 'Here come the good guys after the bad guys,' " Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department, testified Thursday. "My only thought was, 'Pop a couple of caps...keep your head down and run to another hiding place."

Ratliff, who often played the "bad guy" in police hostage training simulations, hid in Irons' chambers after a brief shootout with officers who came to her aid. He surrendered a few minutes later.

Ratliff is charged with first-degree murder and three counts of assault with intent to murder as a result of that shootout Oct. 19 in the Kent County Hall of Justice. If convicted, he faces life in prison without parole.

The defense called Ratliff to the stand in the fourth day of testimony.

Ratliff, who appeared composed and spoke softly, testified he recalled being at only one of the three taverns where he was drinking whiskey the morning of the noon shooting.

Ratliff said he did not feel he was excessively drunk or out of control and was in a "happy mood" as he drank with friends after finishing his overnight patrol shift.

He recalled going to his divorce attorney's office that morning, where he was shown a letter from Irons' lawyer that reflected a divorce settlement offering Ratliff less than what he believed the couple had agreed upon.

"I think I was angry and upset," Ratliff testified. "I just remember telling him to go ahead and get the divorce over with."

The next thing he said he remembers is being in the courthouse, which adjoins the police department and entering his wife's office.

"I have the impression or feeling we had an argument," Ratiliff said. "At some point it appeared everything was slowed down, like slow motion." Ratliff described the feeling as one he once experienced when he was in a motorcycle accident - and saw it coming.

"I recall thinking I was looking at me and I was holding a gun on Carol," he said. He then heard laughter, though he said he didn't know if it came from his wife, himself "Or if it was in my head."

"I have no conscious memory of pulling the trigger," Ratliff said. Afterward, "we stood there looking at each other."

Irons ran out of the office clutching her bleeding throat and Ratliff followed her, firing another shot at her and exchanging nine shots with officers coming to her aid in the narrow corridor, police said. Ratliff said he doesn't recall firing at all.

He said he did not recognize any of the officers, although he had known them for years.

After retreating to Irons' office, Ratliff said he sat on the floor behind her desk and saw blood on the floor. "It became clear to me that I hurt Carol and that this wasn't a game.

"The gun was so repulsive to me that all I wanted to do was toss it," he said. "All I could think of is, I've got to get out of here."

When asked by defense attorney Grant Gruel whether he intended to kill Irons or the officers, Ratliff said, "No, sir."

Gruel contends Ratliff was severely intoxicated and under extreme stress and could not have planned the killing. The prosecution contends the shooting was premeditated.











Witnesses say ex-cop was impaired
The Bryan Times
May 03, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [UPI] - A former police officer was sexually disfunctional and felt deeply betrayed by his wife's marital infidelities when he fatally shot her in her judicial chambers, a psychologist testified.

Clarence Donald Ratliff, 53, had been suspicious for some time that his wife of four years was seeing other men when he tapped their home telephone and amassed tape recordings between her and another man, clinical psychologist Daniel Rosen testified Tuesday.

Ratliff went on trial April 24 on a first-degree murder charge in the Oct. 19 slaying of Grand Rapids District Judge Carol Irons, 40, in her chambers at the Kent County Hall of Justice.











MAN ON TRIAL IN HIS WIFE'S DEATH FEARED DIVORCE LOSS
LINDA WARREN United Press International, Associated Press
May 3, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS -- A former police officer on trial in the slaying of his estranged wife, a district judge, taped allegedly sexually explicit phone conversations between her and another man partly in hopes of keeping his northern cabin and truck in a divorce settlement, a bartender testified Tuesday.

Diana Kanoza said she served Clarence Ratliff three shots of Jim Beam between about 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Oct. 19. He is accused of shooting to death Grand Rapids District Judge Carol Irons in her chambers about noon that day.

Ratliff, 53, seemed happy and in control of himself, Kanoza said. But when she asked how things were going with his divorce, he replied, "not very good," she said. At issue was whether he would keep the cabin and truck, which he claims to have owned when he married Irons, 40, four years ago, she said.

"He said he had tape recordings of her for nine months and that it cost him a lot, but he knew he wouldn't get a fair divorce, so he had to do it," Kanoza said.

"He said, 'It's pretty bad, Diane, when you know your wife is a whore and a judge at the same time,' " Kanoza said.

"He said, 'A lot of people think I'm heartless, but you know. . . . I do feel pain and I hurt,' " Kanoza said.

Kanoza said she encouraged Ratliff to tell Irons he had not thrown away the tapes as he had told her.

"I said she's coming up for re-election . . .and suggested maybe he should tell her he has the tapes, then maybe she'd let him have the cottage and truck --which was his in the first place," Kanoza said.

Kanoza said she has known Ratliff about 21 years, and had seen him drunk in the past. Asked if he appeared drunk that morning, she said, "Not to a bartender. If he blew" a breathalyzer test "he would have been. Intoxication in my book is falling down and slurring."

Bartenders at two other taverns Ratliff visited after leaving his road patrol shift about 7:30 a.m. testified he had been drinking straight shots of bourbon, but disputed contentions he was drunk.

Defense lawyer Grant Gruel contends Ratliff's mental capacity was so diminished by alcohol and anguish that he could not have formed the legal intent for a first-degree murder charge.

"It defies logic" that Ratliff would plan to kill his wife in the courthouse, adjacent to the police department, Gruel said. But Assistant Attorney General Mark Blumer said Ratliff held a gun at his wife's head for 20 seconds before pulling the trigger, giving him time to reflect on his actions.

When Blumer rested the prosecution case Tuesday, Gruel asked Judge Dennis Kolenda to rule out first-degree murder. But Kolenda, saying a reasonable jury could conclude that Ratliff premeditated the shooting, refused.

Ratliff's blood alcohol level measured .14 percent when he was tested 5 1/2 hours after the shooting, testimony showed. Gruel contends that means Ratliff likely had a blood alcohol level of more than 0.2 percent -- twice the level considered legally drunk --when the shooting occurred.











PSYCHOLOGIST: MAN WAS DISTURBED WHEN HE SHOT WIFE IN CHAMBERS
LINDA WARREN United Press International, associated Press
May 3, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS --A former police officer was sexually dysfunctional and felt deeply betrayed by his wife's marital infidelities when he fatally shot her in her judicial chambers, a psychologist testified.

Clarence Donald Ratliff, 53, had been suspicious for some time that his wife of four years was seeing other men. He tapped their home telephone and amassed tape recordings of conversations between her and another man, clinical psychologist Daniel Rosen said at Ratliff's trial Tuesday.

Ratliff went on trial April 24 on a first-degree murder charge in the Oct. 19 slaying of District Judge Carol Irons, 40.

Rosen characterized Ratliff as a deeply insecure, passive man who avoided confrontation with Irons about the affair he believed she was having.

"It is my conclusion that Mr. Ratliff was functioning with sufficiently diminished mental capacity that he couldn't have formed the specific intent to kill . . . Carol Irons," Rosen said.

Rosen, who interviewed Ratliff for the first time two days after the shooting, concluded alcohol and stress contributed to Ratliff's diminished capacity. Ratliff did not recall pulling the trigger, but remembered seeing Irons run from her office, clutching her bleeding throat, Rosen said.

" 'When I was in the office, it didn't seem like me,' " Rosen read from transcripts of Ratliff's interview. " 'I knew it was me, but I didn't have no control over it.

" 'It seemed like a training mission in which I was playing the bad guy,' " Rosen said Ratliff told him. " 'But when I saw the blood, I realized it wasn't a game.' "

Ratliff said, " 'I don't know if I was intoxicated, "'

Rosen testified, but a test 5 1/2 hours after the shooting showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.14, well above the 0.10 level of legal intoxication.

Rosen said a deep sense of inadequacy, sparked by poverty in childhood, contributed to a lifelong sense of inferiority.

Ratliff had been ordered to leave the couple's home months before the slaying, and a final divorce decree was pending.

                   














MAN ON TRIAL IN HIS WIFE'S DEATH CALLED DISTURBED
LINDA WARREN United Press International, Associated Press
May 3, 1989
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS -- A former police officer was sexually dysfunctional and felt deeply betrayed by his wife's marital infidelities when he fatally shot her in her judicial chambers, a psychologist testified.

Clarence Donald Ratliff, 53, had been suspicious for some time that his wife of four years was seeing other men when he tapped their home telephone and amassed tape recordings of conversations between her and another man, clinical psychologist Daniel Rosen said at Ratliff's trial Tuesday.

Ratliff went on trial April 24 on a first-degree murder charge in the Oct. 19 slaying of Grand Rapids District Judge Carol Irons, 40, in the Kent County Hall of Justice.

He also is charged with three counts of assault with intent to murder three police officers who came to the judge's aid during an exchange of gunfire in the corridor outside her chambers. She died minutes after suffering a single shot to the base of her throat from a 9mm revolver.

Rosen characterized Ratliff as a deeply insecure, passive man who avoided confrontation with Irons about the affair he believed she was having.

Rosen, hired by the defense, said he was asked to evaluate Ratliff to determine if he could have formed the intent required to support the first-degree murder charge.

"It is my conclusion that Mr. Ratliff was functioning with sufficiently diminished mental capacity that he couldn't have formed the specific intent to kill . . . Carol Irons," Rosen said.

When Ratliff pulled the trigger, Rosen said, he was suffering from disassociation of consciousness, in which he was substituting a previous experience for reality.

Rosen, who interviewed Ratliff for the first time two days after the shooting, concluded alcohol and stress contributed to Ratliff's diminished capacity.

Ratliff did not recall pulling the trigger, but remembered seeing Irons run from her office, clutching her bleeding throat, Rosen said.

" ' When I was in the office, it didn't seem like me,' " Rosen read from transcripts of Ratliff's interview.

" 'I knew it was me, but I didn't have no control over it. " 'It seemed like a training mission in which I was playing the bad guy,' " Rosen said Ratliff told him. " 'But when I saw the blood, I realized it wasn't a game.' "

Rosen said that Ratliff said, " 'I think I shot several more times but don't remember' " trying to hit anyone.

Ratliff said, " 'I don't know if I was intoxicated, '" Rosen testified, but a test 5 1/2 hours after the shooting showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.14, well above the 0.10 level of legal intoxication. "How could I have done this?" Ratliff asked Rosen during the interview. "I spent my whole life in one uniform or another. How could it happen to me? I just don't know."

Rosen described a 20-year police veteran who expressed shame and disgust at his actions and cried sporadically through the interview. Rosen said a deep sense of inadequacy, sparked by poverty in childhood, contributed to a life-long sense of inferiority.

Ratliff had been ordered to leave the couple's home months before the slaying, and a final divorce decree was pending.

His career as a marine, later a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Reserves and his police career provided him a sense of identity and importance, Rosen said.

Ratliff, who witnesses testified was drinking straight bourbon for at least two hours before the slaying, had a long history of severe alcohol abuse, including blackouts and amnesia, Rosen said.

Ratliff is expected to testify today.











Murder Trail Begins Amid Tight Security
The Argus- Press
April 27, 1989
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - An ex-policeman on trial in the slaying of his wife, District Judge Carol Irons, was described as a wounded husband by the defense and a calculating killer by the prosecution in opening arguments.

The trial of Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department, got under way Wednesday amid tight security in a courtroom packed with about 60 spectators.

Ratliff is being charged with one count of first-degree murder, three counts of assault with intent to murder for allegedly firing at three police officers who came to Irons' aid and one felony firearm charge.

Irons was shot to death Oct. 19 in her judicial chambers at the Kent County Hall of Justice, which also houses the police department. Ratliff. 53, was off duty at the time of the shooting.

Ratliff, in the middle of divorce proceedings with Irons, was deeply disturbed about evidence of his wife's infidelity, defense attorney Grant Gruel told the jury.

Gruel said Ratliff, who appeared somber during the arguments, had tapped Irons' telephone while the two still were living together and had recordings of a sexually explicit conversation between Irons and another man.

Ratliff later the the tapes into the Muskegon River, he said.

"He was a macho guy," Gruel said. "He's big and he's tough and he's a real man's man, but inside he was bleeding...he was destroyed."

Gruel told the jury that Ratliff, who was working as a patrol officer on the overnight shift, drank between 13 ounces and 16 ounces of whiskey at the bars during a four-hour period before he went to see Irons at noon.

A blood-alcohol test nearly six hours after the shooting showed an alcohol level of 0.14 percent in Ratliff's system, meaning Ratliff was significantly more intoxicated at the time of the slaying, Gruel said. In Michigan, people are legally drunk if their blood alcohol level is at least 0.10 percent.

In his condition, Ratliff was incapable of forming intent to kill his wife or to shoot at other officers, Gruel said. First-degree murder calls for prosecutors to prove the slaying was premeditated.

"It's a cardinal rule among police officers that you never harm your fellow officer," Gruel said. "The person who shot at those police officers was not the real Don Ratliff." Ratliff's middle name is Donald and friends call him Don.

But Assistant Attorney General Mark Blumer who is prosecuting the case, said that before going to the Hall of Justice, Ratliff had told a bartender he was tired of his wife's alleged cheating - the clearest evidence of Ratliff's premeditation.

Ratliff also told officers immediately after his arrest, "I caught her in one to many beds," Blumer said.











Trial Ordered in Killing
The Argus - Press, Owosso MI
Thursday, December 01, 1988
Grand Rapids [AP] - A former Grand Rapids police officer remained held without bond today in the Kent County Jail while awaiting trial on a murder charge in the shooting of his estranged wife, 61st District Judge Carol Irons.

Visiting Judge Gary Holman on Wednesday order Clarence Ratliff, 53, to stand trial in the Oct. 19 slaying of Irons in her courthouse chambers. Arraignment was scheduled for Dec. 9 in Circuit Court on one count of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

Conviction on the first-degree murder charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment without parole.

Holman's order capped a two-day preliminary examination during which prosecutors played taped conversations between Irons and a police dispatcher in the moments before she was shot to death.

Police dispatcher Ruth Cook said she telephoned Irons after an alarm from her chambers lit up. She asked the judge if she was all right.

"Nothings all right. My husband is pointing a gun at my head as we speak," Irons responded in a calm voice on a tape played Tuesday by Assistant Attorney General mark Blumer.

Ratliff's fellow officers also testified that Ratliff told them he shot Irons because he suspected her of infidelity. The couple was in the middle of divorce proceedings.

Officer John DanBoer said Ratliff broke down after being told his wife had died.












Slain judge's words heard in courtroom
Bryan Times
Wednesday, November 30, 1988
Grandville, Mich. [UPI] - A slain judge's final words were heard Tuesday in the courtroom where her estranged husband - a 21-year veteran of the Grand Rapids Police Department - appeared for a preliminary hearing.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, faces an open murder charge in the Oct. 19 slaying of 61st District Judge Carol Irons, 40, in her chamber at the Hall of Justice in downtown Grand Rapids.

During the hearing, expected to last three days, a tape recording was played of a telephone conversation between Irons and the police dispatcher, Ruth Cook, who was on duty when an alarm flashed from the judge's chambers.

Cooks sais she answered the alarm, identified herself and asked Irons if everything was all right.

"Nothing is all right," Irons responded. "My husband is pointing a gun at my head as we speak."

Cook asked Irons if her husband was intoxicated, and Irons responded, "Yes, he is."

The dispatcher told Irons she would send officers to her courtroom, and Irons said, "Thank you."

Two of the four officers who responded to the alarm - Capt. Dan Ostapowicz and Officer James Wells - testified they had known Ratliff for 20 years. Both testified Ratliff said nothing during an exchange of gunfire in the corridor after they arrived.

The officers testified they saw Irons clutching her throat and calling for help during the exchange of gunfire. They said Ratliff was in custody within a matter of seconds.











Tape of Judge's Last Words Heard At Mate's Hearing
Schenectady Gazette
Linda Warren
Wednesday, November 30, 1988
Grandville, Mich. [UPI] - A slain judge's last words were heard yesterday in the courtroom where her estranged husband - a 21-year veteran policeman accused of killing her - appeared for a preliminary hearing.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, faces an open murder charge in the Oct. 19 slaying of District Judge Carol Irons, 40, in her chambers at the Hall of Justice.

During the hearing, expected to last three days, a tape recording was played of a telephone conversation between Irons and police dispatcher Ruth Cook, who was on duty when an alarm flashed from the judge's chambers.

Cook said she answered the alarm, identified herself and asked Irons if everything was all right.

"Nothing is all right," Irons responded. "My husband is pointing a gun at my head as we speak."

Cook asked Irons if her husband was intoxicated, and Irons responded, "Yes, he is."

Two of the four officers who responded - Capt. Dan Ostapowicz and Officer James Wells - testified that Ratliff said nothing during an exchange of gunfire in the corridor.

The officers said Irons clutched her throat and called for help during the shooting. They said Ratliff was in custody within seconds.

Kent County Sheriff's Deputy Rober Maier, a court security officer, testified he heard Ratliff tell other officers he wanted to surrender.












Write-In Campaign Worries Colleagues of Slain Judge
The Argus - Press, Owosso, MI
Friday, October 28, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - The vacancy created by the murder of District Judge Carol Irons will be filled in a last-minute write-in campaign, and her grieving friends and colleagues fear an unqualified opportunist could get the job.

"Essentially, its a crap shoot," Chief District Judge Donald Johnston said Thursday.

"I suppose it's an opportunist's market for anyone who has ever thought of running... There are some people interested in it who strike me as being quite qualified, while some others are very alarming," he said.

Johnston said many court employees were still grieving for Irons, who died Oct. 19 by in her courthouse chambers from a single gunshot to the neck. Her estranged husband, Clarence D. Ratliff, a city police officer, has been charged with murder.

Irons, 40, had been serving as chief judge pro term and would have automatically become chief judge if Johnston were elected circuit judge on Nov. 8.

Now, Irons' successor will automatically become chief judge until at least the end of 1989 if Johnston wins his race.

Many of the 12 candidates announced for 61st District judge as of Wednesday are expected to have pre-printed stickers made up that voters can just peel and stick onto ballots.

"There's concern that who ever [is] best organized and can get the most stickers in the most people's hands is going to win irrespective of qualifications," said District Judge Joel Hoekstra, who delivered Irons' eulogy.

The winner of the election will take on a post with an annual salary of $88,000. All candidate must be attorneys under 70 years of age and residents of Grand Rapids.

Johnston estimated Rons handled about 13,000 cases a year.

Among the candidates announced so far are two assistant city attorneys, an assistant Kent County prosecutor and several lawyers in private practice.

However, Donald Worsfold, president of the Grand Rapids Bar Association, said attorneys aren't required to announce their write-in candidacies. "We could still have somebody we don't know about passing out stickers," on elestion day, he said.

Besides the concern that an unqualified person may be elected, Johnston said there is another concern.

"There's a natural sense of resentment among court personnel about how so many have crassly seized the opportunity by this tragic event to advance their own position," he said. "The person who is elected will probably have a difficult period of adjustment with court employees."

Candidate Michael Christensen, an assistant Kent County prosecutor who knew Irons personally, said the decision to run for the post was a difficult one.

"But there's the realization that the work of the 61st District Court continues and it will continue to be the second busiest court in the state of Michigan," he said.

Johnston said he expected the judges would ask Gov. James Blanchard to have the winnter begin serving on the bench immediately to ease the court's backlog, rather than waiting until Jan. 1.

Mayor Gerald Helmholdt on Wednesday announced the formation of a group of attorneys and judges to review and rank the write-in candidates. The Bar Association will sponsor a candidates forum Nov. 3.











Probe Uncovers Threats Before Slaying of Judge
Argus-Press, Owosso MI
Wednesday, October 26, 1988
Grand Rapids [AP]- Evidence of death threats, wiretaps and extortion has been uncovered as police investigate the shooting death of District Judge Carol S. Irons, allegedly slain by her police officer husband.

Irons confided in close friends that her estranged husband threatened to kill her, but didn't tell police because she apparently feared provoking him and ruining his career, according to Irons' divorce attorney and personal friend.

In search of Officer Clarence D. Ratliff's home after the Oct. 12 slaying in Irons' chambers, police found a pipe bomb and other potential bomb-making ingredients such as impact explosives, blasting caps and detonation cord, according to warrants returned to Grand Rapids District Court on Monday.

Court documents said Ratliff, a former member of the department's bomb squad, had reportedly threatened to kill Irons' former boyfriend with a car bomb.

Ratliff apparently had used the pipe bomb for training purposes with other officers, Police Chief William Hegarty said at a news conference Tuesday.

Hegarty wouldn't say if it was against departmental policy for officers to bring such devices home. He said the bomb wasn't strong enough to destroy property.

Irons, 40, told her friend and attorney Diann Landers about the threats in June, Landers told the Grand Rapids Press Monday.

Landers, who was handling Irons' divorce from Ratliff, said she considered filing an injunction to keep Ratliff from harassing her client, but Irons refused to go to police because she feared it could cost her husband his job.

Hegarty said similar concerns apparently kept Ratliff's first wife from filing assault charges against him after he allegedly broke into her home in 1975 and struck her repeatedly on the back of the head with a handgun, causing at least three lacerations. The couple were going through a divorce at the time.

Ratliff, 53, was suspended from the department without pay for five days afterwards.

Hegarty said had been no other disciplinary problems with Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the department, until last week's shootings.

After a brief exchange of gunfire with police in the courthouse, Ratliff surrendered. He remains in the Ottawa County Jail on a murder charged.

He is suspended without pay from the department and Hegarty said he has recommended to the city manager that Ratliff be fired.

Hegarty said police had no knowledge before Irons' death that she had been threatened, but that since the shooting a number of individuals had come forward.

Ratliff also allegedly made several tapes after wiretapping Irons' home telephone and "has in his possession tapes or statements made by Carol Irons and a second party that would be detrimental to her reputation as a judge and a candidate for public office," police said in court documents.

Hegarty said the department had not yet reviewed all the tapes, but that some involved pending or closed criminal matters.

Ratliff also wanted Irons to give him money or assume some of his debts as part of the divorce settlement, Landers said.

"There was some pressure, extortion, to attempt to get a better settlement," Landers told The Press.

Also Tuesday, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said he would hand prosecution of Ratliff's case over to the state Attorney General's office because he and many members of his staff knew Irons personally.

Irons, the first woman elected to the bench in Kent County, was running unopposed for re-election Nov. 8. There will be a write-in campaign to elect a new judge.











Police Officer Charged In Death of His Wife
The Argus-Press, Owosso, Mich.
Friday, October 21, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A police officer charged with fatally shooting his wife, District Judge Carol S. Irons had a "Jekyll and Hyde" personality that sometimes turned ugly when he drank, his supervisor says.

Clarence. D. Ratliff, 53, stood mute at his arraignment Thursday in a courtroom three floors above Irons' court chambers, the site of Wednesday's shooting at the Ottawa County Hall of Justice.

The Grand Rapids police officer was charged with one open count of murder, two counts of assault with intent to murder stemming from a gunfire exchanged with police and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. One police officer was grazed by a bullet fragment in the exchanged.

Visiting 56th District Judge Gary Holman did not set bond, ordering Ratliff, a 21-year police veteran, held in Ottawa County Jail pending a Nov. 2 preliminary hearing.

Friends and colleagues of Ratliff, a night patrol officer who was off-duty at the time of the shooting, described him as likeable, but said he had a drinking problem that sometimes triggered a nasty temper.

"He was like a regular Jekyll and Hyde," Ratliff's supervisor, Lt. Frank Woronko, told The Grand Rapids Press. "His problem was his drinking."

Ratliff, who police say shot his wife once in the throat and fired at two police officers as she ran from her chambers, was drinking beer with a fellow off-duty officer at a tavern about an hour before he went to see his wife at noon, the newspaper reported. His shift had ended at 7 a.m.

Friends and relatives said the couple had different personalities but that there were no indications of violence in their relationship.

"He was a happy guy," said Sgt. Ted Guist, a former partner of Ratliff's. "He was kind of a macho kind, some would say a man's man."

Ratliff, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and was a member of the Corps reserves, moved out of the couple's home at Irons' request earlier this year, said Peter Irons, the judge's brother. The couple, married four years, were close to having their divorce finalized.

Irons, 40, was the county's first female judge. She was known as sensitive to women's issues and Ratliff "had dome very negative reactions to some of her personal associations, especially her connections with persons in the women's movement," Peter Irons said.

Irons, who was elected 61st District judge in 1982, was running unopposed for re-election next month. Her position is now open to write-in candidates.

Peter Irons said his family considered her marriage "a mystery".

He said they were surprised when she announced the marriage, which was the second for both. "It certainly was surprising that she would marry someone so restrictive," he said.

"Since he left, there had been a great sense of relief and well-being for Carol," said the judge's brother.

Services for Irons, a native of Detroit, were scheduled for 2p.m. today at Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids.











SHATTERING ENDING FOR ODD-COUPLE MARRIAGE \ JUDGE, COP WED AT SHOOTING SITE
Author: DAVID HACKER AND DAWSON BELL, e Press Staff Writers
October 21, 1988
Detroit Free Press
(MI) GRAND RAPIDS -- They were the odd couple, the judge and the cop.

The judge was 40, tough, almost brassy, but compassionate, worried about domestic violence, sensitive to the rights of minorities and homosexuals. The first female judge in Kent County, she did her own thing, like showing up to judge amateur singing night at a local restaurant.

The cop was 53, macho by all accounts, an ex-marine known by his nickname "Rat," into motorcycles and twice-a-week workouts, an outdoorsman who liked to get away to a cabin on the Muskegon River.

Four years ago, this odd couple -- Judge Carol Irons of 61st District Court and Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year veteran of the city police -- were married behind the Kent County Hall of Justice, on the lawn overlooking the Grand River in downtown Grand Rapids.

In a photo of the ceremony taken by the Grand Rapids Press, Irons and Ratliff were clasping hands, looking into each other's eyes and laughing.

The photo appeared on the front page of the newspaper Thursday, and Ratliff appeared in the courthouse to be arraigned on a charge of murdering his estranged wife.

At the same Hall of Justice building where they were married, where their divorce was nearly final, and where the judge was shot Wednesday, Ratliff stood silently in a heavily guarded courtroom as the charges were read: open murder, attempted murder for allegedly shooting at two fellow police officers who were rushing to his wife's aid, and using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Wearing belly and ankle chains and the same civilian clothes in which he was arrested, Ratliff responded in whispered monosyllables to the questions of visiting Barry County District Judge Gary Holman.

The arraignment took only a few moments. Ratliff didn't look back when one of his sons from an earlier marriage shouted, "We love you, Dad," as he was led away.

Authorities said Thursday that they were uncertain what prompted the shooting, which occurred shortly after noon Wednesday in the judge's chambers. Irons had filed for divorce from her husband June 21, but she told colleagues the split was amiable.

But friends and relatives said conflicts in the relationship were apparent almost from the beginning.

Irons' brother Peter, of Grand Rapids, said Irons and Ratliff had "different life values" and that her family regarded the marriage as a mystery.

"When they got married, I can't say that some of us didn't say the same thing," said Michigan Court of Appeals Judge David Sawyer, a former Kent County prosecutor who hired Irons as an assistant in 1977 and was a friend of the couple. "It did kind of seem funny . . . Obviously they had philosophical differences."

Each had been married once before. They had no children together. Ratliff had three grown children from his first marriage.

As judge and police officer, "They were both very much wrapped in peace and tranquility of the community," said Sawyer.

They also liked to drink, said friends and family.

Irons, however, had told Sawyer she had stopped drinking. He said she had been attending meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous for more than a year.

Sawyer blamed the marriage breakup on Ratliff spending time at his cabin, drinking with buddies. Earlier this year, he moved into the cabin after she moved his things out of the home they shared on the city's north side. "
Carol wanted something else out of life," Sawyer said.

Ratliff's drinking also caused ugly changes in his personality, said police colleagues.

Lt. Frank Woronko, Ratliff's supervisor, said Ratliff was a reliable officer, "but his problem was his drinking. He was like a regular Jekyll and Hyde."

Ratliff had visited a favorite tavern an hour before the shooting and had not been to bed since his night shift ended at 7 a.m. Police said a sample of his blood, drawn shortly after the shooting, was being tested for alcohol and drugs.

Ratliff was being held without bond at the jail in neighboring Ottawa County pending a preliminary hearing set for Nov. 2.

Irons was born in Detroit and raised in Berkley. She graduated from Olivet College in 1970, and attended Wayne State University Law School from 1973-77, when she moved to Grand Rapids and became an assistant prosecutor.

Sawyer said, "The public is shocked and saddened" by the killing, but people in Grand Rapids will probably understand it mainly as a marriage gone wrong, not a sign of changing times in Michigan's straitlaced second-largest city.

City Manager Kurt Kimball called the killing "an aberrant situation," not something that "would signal the city and put a label on it that would make someone scratch their head and ask, 'What's happening here?'"

"We don't have very many of these," said Nancy French, a former communications specialist for the city. "It was just an emotionally charged situation."

'The seeds of violence are present everywhere," said the Rev. Bruce Bode, associate pastor of the non-denominational Fountain Street Church in the city.

Gerald Elliott, an 81-year-old retired writer for the Grand Rapids Press, said the only similar community furor he could recall was in 1961, when a man was released after spending only a month in a mental institution for shooting his wife to death and wounding her lover.

Irons is survived by her parents James and Virginia Irons of Farwell; and two brothers. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Trinity United Methodist Church, 1100 Lake Drive SE, Grand Rapids. Donations can be made to the Kent County Literacy Council, 60 Library Plaza NE, Grand Rapids 49503.











COUNTY'S FIRST WOMAN JUDGE SOUGHT TO BRING A DIFFERENT PERSEPCTIVE TO FIELD
JIM FINKELSTEIN
Free Press Staff Writer
October 20, 1988
Detroit Free Press
(MI) As Kent County's first female judge, Carol Irons was proud of being a role model for young women.

"I think schoolgirls ought to have professional women as role models," she said in a 1985 interview. "No matter how equal we may be, we are not identical to men. Women often perceive things differently and that difference is very much needed in this field."

Irons, 40, a Highland Park native who was unopposed for re- election this fall as a 61st District Court judge, was shot to death Wednesday at the Kent County Hall of Justice. Her estranged husband, a city police officer, was arrested.

Irons attended Wayne State University Law School and was hired as an assistant Kent County prosecutor after graduating in 1977. Before entering school, she had been married and divorced in the Detroit area.

Michigan Court of Appeals Judge David Sawyer, then Kent County prosecutor, said he had interviewed Irons in the law school's basement.

"She had quite set ideas -- she was a firm believer in upholding the constitutional right of individuals," he said.

Irons handled appeals for the Prosecutor's Office, Sawyer said. She became the office's first woman chief of a division when she was appointed to head the appellate division.

Irons accomplished another first in November 1982, when she defeated Henry Smitter, a prominent lawyer, for a district judgeship. The vote was 25,254-23,921.

"A group of women ran a terrific campaign for Carol," recalled Dee Toeller-Novak, a spokeswoman for the Grand Rapids Bar Association.

"It was really seen as a women's victory. No question but that the women's vote in that race made a difference. Carol even said that."

As a judge, Irons was known for her sense of humor outside court and her compassion on the bench.

"I was just in front of her two days ago with a criminal defendant I was representing, and she just generally took the time to listen to what he had to say," said Nancy Dilley, a Grand Rapids lawyer. "She was very thorough, and very patiently listened."

Dilley said Irons had an "incredible sense of humor. She was a really funny, open, candid person."

In 1986, Irons ran for Kent County circuit judge but lost to George Buth, 51,918-40,903. Buth was presiding over her divorce from Clarence Ratliff, who was arrested in Wednesday's shooting.

Among recent cases Irons handled was the sentencing of Allegan County Prosecutor Fred Hunter to community service in September for tax evasion.

In 1985, she convicted pop star El DeBarge for creating a public disturbance.

On the bench, Irons "came right to the point," said Chief District Judge Donald Johnston, who officiated at her July 6, 1984, wedding to Ratliff. "She was very forceful and had a reputation for not suffering fools gladly.

"I think it's a job that needs the perspective women can bring to it," Irons had said of her judgeship.

Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Dorothy Comstock Riley issued this statement Wednesday: "It is with overwhelming sadness that I received the news of the death of Judge Irons. Judge Irons was a fine, fine judge, greatly respected and loved by her colleagues. She will be sorely missed."

Irons is survived by her parents, James and Virginia Irons, and two brothers. Details on funeral arrangements were not available Wednesday.











Michigan judge slain; husband in custody
Milwaukee Sentinel
Thursday, October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich - A judge in her chambers was fatally shot Wednesday by her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer who fired at other officers before surrendering, authorities said.

District Judge Carol Irons, 40, Kent County's first female judge, died moments after her husband went to her chambers to discuss personal matters, Police Chief William Hegarty said.

"Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat, asking, 'Please help me,'" Hegarty said.

Clarence Ratliff, 53, a 21-year veteran of the police force, followed her and fired at least two or three more shots, officials said.











Judge killed by husband
The Bryan Times
Thursday, October 20, 1998
Grand Rapids, Mich. [UPI] - A judge shot to death in her chambers in the Hall of Justice allegedly by her estranged husband, a 21-year police veteran, apparantly had no warning of trouble until faced with the drawn gun that killed her.

District Judge Carol Irons pushed a panic button in her chambers and told police who called that her husband had drawn his gun and was holding it to her head. Moments later, three officers fround Irons, 40, stumbling out of the office clutching her throat and crying, "Please help me."

Irons died in her courtroom, where she was taken by officers who had rushed to help her, said Police Chief William Hegarty.

An arraignment on an open murder charge was expected today for Clarence Ratliff, 51, a former detective recently assigned to night patrol.

Hegarty said Ratliff followed his wife of four years out of the chambers and fired two or three more shots from a 9mm pistol. After Ratliff ducked back into the chambers, Hegarty said Irons was moved into her courtroom where emergency efforts to save her failed.

As police prepared to negotiate with Ratliff, he yelled through the door: "I'm coming out." "Put your hands up," the officers yelled back.

At 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, or eight minutes after Irons hit the panic alarm, Ratliff walked out with his hands raised and surrendered quietly.

"When she told me she was filing for divorce, she mentioned she thought the worst of it was over and thought it would be much easier from then on," said Chief 61st District Judge Donald Johnston, who married the two outside the Hall of Justice. "But there were no indications that there was any violence in their marriage or that she was fearful of him."

The couple had no children together, although Ratliff has children from a previous marriage. It was the second marriage for both.

Kent County Circuit Judge George Buth, who was presiding over the divorce, said the proceedings were complete except for a property settlement.

Josef Soper, 61st District Court administrator, said Irons had told colleagues that she and Ratliff "had agreed to disagree and that they would be friends."

Lt. Vic Gillis said that Ratliff arrived shortly after noon to keep his lunch date with Irons. He was exprected by court personnel who let him in through a locked security door and ushered him down a corridor into her chambers at the end of a hall.

"Unfortunately, this kind of hostility is often hid deep inside an individual," Gillis said.

"No security in the world could have stopped something like this," Soper said. "Anybody on our staff would have let him in."

The couple had filed for divorce in June and Ratliff was living in a cottage the two owned north of Grand Rapids.











Cops: Judge Slain by Husband
From Wire Reports
Sarasota Herald - Tribune
Thursday, October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. - A judge was shot and killed in her chambers Wednesday by her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, who fired at other officers before surrendering, police said.

District Judge Carol Irons, 40, the county's first female judge, was pronounced dead moments after her husband had gone to her chambers to discuss personal matters, said Grand Rapids Police Chief William Hegarty.

"Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat, asking... "Please, help me,' " Hegarty said. Clarence Ratliff, 53, followed her and fired at least two or three more shots, Hegarty said.

Ratliff had no history of mental problems and there was no reason to believe that Irons feared her husband, Hegarty said. They had been married four years and were in divorce proceedings.











Judge begs for help before hubbie shoots
Spokane Chronicle
Thursday, October 20, 1988
A judge begged for help over a courthouse intercom moments before her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, fatally shot her in her chambers, authorities said.

District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40, was shot inthe throat at least once Wednesday and stumbled into a hallway, where her husband, Clarence Ratliff, 53, followed her and fired at least two more shots, police said. She was pronounced dead in a jury room minutes later.

"Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat, asking ... 'Please, help me!' " Police Chief William Hegarty said at a news conference.

Ratliff, a 21-year police department veteran, briefly exchanged gunfire in a corridor with officers who answered Irons' pleas, and then barricaded himself in her chambers.











Judge slain by husband
Toldeo Blade
Thursday, October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A state district judge was shot and killed in her chambers by her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, who fired at other officers before surrendering, police said.

District Judge Carol Irons, 40, was pronounced dead moments after her husband went to her chambers yesterday to discuss personal matters, said Chief William Hegarty of the Grand Rapids police.

The wounded judge ran out of her chambers into the corrider, Chief Hegarty said. Clarence Ratliff, 53, a 21-year veteran of the police force, followed her and fired at least two or three more shots.

Ratliff then barricaded himself in her chambers, the police chief said, exchanging gunfire briefly with three police officers before surrendering.

Hegarty said the couple had been married three or four years.
 











Estranged husband held in fatal shooting of judge
Lewiston Journal
Thursday, October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. [AP] - A judge begged for help over a courthouse intercom moments before her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, fatally shot her in her chambers, authorities said.

District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40, was shot in the throat at least once yesterday and stumbled into a hallway, where her husband, Clarence Ratliff, 53, followed her and fired at least two more shots, police said. She was pronounced dead in a jury room minutes later.

"Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat, asking ... 'Please, help me!' " Police Chief William Hegarty said at a news conference.

Ratliff, a 21-year police department veteran, briefly exchanged gunfire in a corridor with officers who answered Irons' pleas, and then barricaded himself in her chambers.

He surrendered within minutes and was arrested at the courthouse, the site of the couple's marriage four years ago. Ratliff was held in the city jail today pending the filing of formal charges.

The police chief said Ratliff had no history of mental problems and there was no reason to believe Irons feared him. Ratliff, who was on night patrol duty, was in civilian clothes when he entered the chambers at midday.

Moments later, the judge apparently triggered an alarm in her chambers, and a police dispatcher called there on an intercom, said police Lt. Vic Gillis, "The dispatcher...asked if anything was wrong," Gillis said. "She said something to the effect that she was not OK, that her ex-husband was in there and holding a gun on her."

Officers responded quickly because the police department is next to the Hall of Justice. Within seconds, Ratliff began firing, authorities said. Hegarty said it was unknown if Ratliff used his service revolver.

The courthouse has no metal detector, but Hegarty said he doubted such security would have prevented the shooting.

The couple were in divorce proceedings; it was the second marriage for both. The pair had no children together, although Ratliff has children from a previous marriage.

When she told me she was filing for divorce, she mentioned she thought the worst of it was over and thought it would be much easier from then on," said Chief District Judge Donald Johnston, who spoke with Irons minutes before she was killed.
 











Judge shot in chambers by policeman husband
Lodi [CA] News Sentinel
Thursday October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich. [UPI] - A  judge was shot to death in her chambers Wednesday by her estranged husband , a 21-year police veteran who surrendered after a brief gunfight with other officers in the courthouse hallway, police said.

Moments after she sounded an alarm, three officers found District Judge Carol Irons, 40, stumbling out of her office, clutching her bleeding throat and crying, "Please help me.!"

She had called from her chambers, saying Clarence Ratliff, 51, was holding a gun to her head, Police Chief William Hegarty said. Ratliff pursued the mortally wounded judge into the hall, still firing, as Officer James Wells helped her to a vacant jury room next to her chambers, where she died, Hegarty said.

Courthouse patrons and workers ducked for cover during a brief exchange of shots in the hallway, in which one officer suffered a minor wound. Hegarty said Ratliff ran back into the chambers, barricaded himself briefly and then surrendered without further shots.











Off-duty officer kills his judge wife
Michigan jurist begged for help after being shot in her chambers
Deseret News, Salt Lake City Utah
Thursday, October 20, 1988
Grand Rapids, Mich [AP] - A judge begged for help over a courthouse intercom moments before her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, fatally shot her in her chambers, authorities said.

District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40, was shot in the throat at least once Wednesday and stumbled into a hallway, where her husband, Clarence Ratliff 53, followed her and fired at least two more shot, police said. She was pronounced dead in a jury room minutes later.

Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat asking, 'Please help me' Police Chief William Hegarty said at a news conference.

Ratliff, a 21-year police department veteran, briefly exchanged gunfire in a corridor with officers who answered Irons' pleas, and then barricaded himself in her chambers.

He surrendered within minutes and was arrested at the courthouse, the site of the couples' marriage four years ago. Ratliff was held in the city jail Thursday pending the filing of formal chargs.

The police chief said Ratliff had no history of mental problems and there was no reason to believe Irons feared him. Ratliff, who was on night patrol duty, was in civilian clothes when he entered the chambers at midday.

Moments later, the judge apprently triggered an alarm in her chambers, and a police dispatcher called there on an intercom, said police Lt. Vic Gillis. "The dispatcher ...asked if anything was wrong," Gillis said. "She said something to the effect that she was no OK, that her ex-husband was in there and holding a gun on her."

Officers responded quickly because the police department is next to the Hall of Justice. Within seconds, Ratliff began firing, authorities said. Hegarty said it was unknown if Ratliff used his service revolver.

The courthouse has no metal detector, but Hegarty said he doubted such security would have prevented the shooting.

The couple were in divorce proceedings; it was the second marriage for both. The pair had no children together, although Ratliff has children from a previous marriage.

"When she told me she was filing for divorce, she mentioned she thought the worst of it was over and thought it would be much easire from then on," said Chief District Judge Donald Johnston, who spoke with Irons minutes before she was killed.












Judge Fatally Shot in Court; Estranged Husband Is Held
New York Times
October 20, 1988
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DE1D91630F933A15753C1A96E948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=print

LEAD: A county judge was fatally shot in her chambers today by her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, who fired at other officers before surrendering, the police said.

A county judge was fatally shot in her chambers today by her estranged husband, an off-duty police officer, who fired at other officers before surrendering, the police said.

Officer Ratliff, 53, a 21-year veteran of the force, then barricaded himself in the judge's chambers, the Chief said, exchanging gunfire briefly with three officers before surrendering.

The 40-year-old judge, Carol S. Irons, was shot shortly after noon after her husband went to her chambers to discuss personal matters, said Police Chief William Hegarty.

Wounded, the judge ran to a nearby courtroom, the Chief said, and the gunman, Clarence Ratliff, followed her and fired at least two more shots. Shot at least once in the throat, she died in the courtroom.













JUDGE SLAIN IN COURT CHAMBERS \ ESTRANGED HUSBAND HELD IN GRAND RAPIDS SHOOTING
QUELYNN BOYLE Staff Writer
October 20, 1988
Detroit Free Press
(MI)GRAND RAPIDS -- A district judge was gunned down in her chambers Wednesday afternoon by her estranged husband, an off- duty police officer who then tried to shoot it out with other officers before surrendering, police said. Judge Carol Irons of 61st District Court died minutes after she was shot once in the throat by Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year police veteran, who came to her chambers around noon for a lunch date, police said.

Just before she was shot, Irons had hit a panic button in her chambers and told police who called that her husband had drawn his gun on her.

Officers heard the shot that killed her as they raced to her aid.

"Judge Irons came out of her chambers bent over with her hands reaching for her throat, asking the police officer, 'Please, help me,' "Police Chief William Hegarty said.

Ratliff, 53, a former detective recently reassigned to night patrol, gave up after firing more shots and briefly barricading himself in Irons' chambers in the Kent County Hall of Justice. He is expected to be arraigned today on a charge of open murder, authorities said.

At a recent meeting, Irons had told other judges she thought she had weathered the worst of the pending divorce ending her four-year marriage. The judge handling the divorce described it as friendly.

Irons, 40, died in her courtroom where she was taken by the officers who had rushed to help her.

Hegarty said Ratliff followed his wife out of the chambers and fired two or three more shots from a 9mm pistol as officers rushed the judge into a jury room. After Ratliff ducked back into the chambers, Hegarty said Irons was moved into her courtroom where emergency efforts to save her failed.

"When she told me she was filing for divorce, she mentioned she thought the worst of it was over and thought it would be much easier from then on," said Chief 61st District Judge Donald Johnston, who married the two outside the Hall of Justice. "But there were no indications that there was any violence in their marriage or that she was fearful of him."

The couple had no children together, though Ratliff has children from her first marriage. It was the second marriage for both.

Circuit Judge George Buth, who was presiding over the divorce, said the proceedings were complete except for a property settlement.

Josef Soper, 61st District Court administrator, said Irons had told colleagues that she and Ratliff "had agreed to disagree and that they would be friends."

Ratliff's sister, who declined to give her name, said the family was stunned by the events. "I love my brother and I loved my sister-in-law," she said trembling, as she and other family members stood in her mother's driveway. "I have no idea what happened. We're all in a state of shock."

She said she spoke with Ratliff two weeks ago and "there was no sign of anything wrong."

She said she knew of nothing in her brother's background to explain what happened Wednesday. "It's unbelievable, it's a nightmare," she said.

She said her brother was in the Marines for four years and then enlisted in the Air Force for an additional four years in the mid-1960s.

He served in Vietnam. Ratliff joined the police after leaving the military, fulfilling a long-held dream, she said.

Irons and Ratliff lived in a 60-year-old, two-story, white frame house on Coit in the North Park neighborhood of northeast Grand Rapids. Irons was unopposed for re-election this fall, but a campaign sign for another 61st District Court candidate was on the front lawn.

Frank Lillith, 34, who lives across the street, said: "I never saw them fighting or anything."

Carol Turner, a neighbor three houses down, said "she was very nice. I've seen him but I never did speak to him. He looked like he didn't want to talk."

Turner's son Tim, 14, said he had sold candy to the couple. Ratliff "didn't like people in his front yard."

Lt. Vic Gillis said that Ratliff arrived shortly after noon Wednesday to keep his lunch date with Irons.

Ratliff was expected and court personnel let him in through a locked security door and ushered him down a corridor into her chambers at the end of a hall behind her courtroom.

Moments later -- at 12:07 p.m. -- Irons hit the panic button, an alarm connected to the Police Department switchboard in the same building.

As officers scrambled the 250 feet from the Police Department to her chambers, a dispatcher called the judge.

Irons answered her telephone saying "her husband was holding a gun on her," Gillis said.

After the shot was heard, Officer James Wells caught the judge as she stumbled, bleeding, from her chambers. He hustled her into the jury room.

As Ratliff, wearing civilian clothes, followed her out, more gunfire erupted as other officers raced into the corridor.

Ratliff jumped back into the chambers, slamming the door behind him.

As police prepared to negotiate with Ratliff, he yelled through the door: "I'm coming out."

At 12:15 p.m. -- eight minutes after Irons hit the panic alarm -- Ratliff walked out with hands raised and surrendered quietly.

Soper said that "no security in the world could have stopped something like this. Anybody on our staff would have let him in."

Hegarty also said he did not think the shooting could have been avoided. "All it was a meeting during the lunch hour between a husband and wife," Hegarty said.

Court was closed in the wake of the shooting and employees were dismissed for the day. Some employees gathered in knots of grief, weeping as they huddled together to comfort each other. Counseling will be provided for employees.

The killing was a double blow to police officer Jennifer Franklin.

She was a witness for the Ratliff-Irons wedding and a survivor of another Hall of Justice shoot-out.

In 1981, Franklin was shot in the face and chest, and another officer was wounded, when a robbery suspect suddenly pulled a gun and started firing as officers tried to serve an arrest warrant on him.

Franklin and Irons were "extremely close," Gillis said, adding the shooting was "like reliving what happened to herself. She is unable to speak with anyone. I saw her leaving after the shooting and I imagine it will be sometime before she recovers from this."

The officers in the 1981 incident were unarmed because of a court rule barring officers from bringing their guns into the courtrooms. The rule was changed after the shooting.

Before she was elected a judge, Irons was the chief of appeals for the Kent County Prosecutor's Office.

She "believed in a common sense approach to the law," said Timothy McMorrow, who succeeded her.

As an appellate lawyer, Irons argued the case that overturned Michigan's common law rule that a person could not be charged with murder if the victim of an attack died more than a year and a day later.

"She argued successfully that medical technology made the rule outdated and that became the law," McMorrow said. "She was well versed in the law and a hard worker -- an excellent attorney."

Assistant Prosecutor Nanette Bowler hugs her husband, District Judge Patrick Bowler, in the Kent County Hall of Justice on Wednesday after 61st District Judge Carol Irons was slain in her chambers.

Police roped off the hallway in the Kent County Hall of Justice on Wednesday after Judge Carol Irons was shot.

Officials investigate the Grand Rapids shooting. Clarence Ratliff, a 21-year police veteran, surrendered after briefly barricading himself.