Monday, May 9, 2011

Judge Irons' murderer requests to be freed from prison

Judge Carol Irons

I just received the following email today, regarding the posibility that Ratliff may be released from prison.

Former Grand Rapids Police Officer, Clarence Ratliff [murdered Judge Carol Irons]

Judge Carol Irons, gunned down and killed by her ex-husband, Officer Ratliff [October 19, 1988].

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "IN MEMORY OF JUDGE CAROL IRONS [KENT COUNTY]":
Shame on Michigan Parole Board for considering the "Rat's" release on "humanitarian" grounds. I say let him out feet first with toe tag on, with priority delivery to the hot afterlife he deserves. He ruined my mothers life the day he shot Judge Irons, she'll never be the same after watching Carol bleed to death in her arms. I'll never forget the day my Mother came home covered in blood, and hasn't been the same since.
Shame on G.R. Press for printing an article quasi supporting his release; and on Mother's Day no less! My Mom really had a wonderful day after picking up the paper from her front porch and seeing the "Rat" on the front page.

On October 19, 1988, Officer Ratliff walked into the Grand Rapids Courthouse...and into his ex-wife's [Judge Carol Irons] chambers.

Using his 9mm duty weapon, Officer Ratliff shot several rounds off at Judge Carol least one of those rounds fired by Ratliff, hit Judge Carol Irons in her neck.

Judge Carol Irons died in her chambers, of a gunshot wound to the neck.

And for some reason, Ratliff, who is dying of cancer, believes he deserves to die in a more dignified place, than behind bars?

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]

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

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.

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."

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Murderer-former cop asks to die free
Clarence Ratliff dying of cancer
Updated: Monday, 09 May 2011, 6:55 PM EDT
Published : Monday, 09 May 2011, 5:24 PM EDT
By Ken Kolker

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 The Grand Rapids Press

Should he die behind bars? The husband, Officer Clarence Ratliff, 53 at the time (above), now is 75 and has terminal cancer.

Press File Photos. Should her killer be let out of prison? Judge Carol Irons was slain in her chambers by her estranged husband in 1988.

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.”

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