Officer Clarence Ratliff murdered his ex-wife, Judge Carol Irons [October 18, 1988]:
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
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.
Officer Clarence Ratliff's assault of first wife, while on duty 
Officer Clarence Ratliff's murder of ex-wife Judge Carol Irons 
Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer John Den Boer after killing Judge Irons 
Officer Clarence Ratliff shot at Officer Daniel Ostopowicz after killing Judge Irons 
Officer Clarence Ratliff sentenced for murder of Judge Carol Irons 
Clarence Ratliff's sentence confirmed 
Judge Irons' murderer requests to be freed from prison 
Judge Irons' murderer, Clarence Ratliff dies in prison