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Former Policeman Gets Two Life Sentences in Courthouse Shooting

June 12, 1989

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ 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 violence at the Kent County Hall of Justice here that claimed the life of District Judge Carol S. Irons, 40.

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

Outside the courtroom, Irons’ friends and relatives hugged.

Kolenda’s office was flooded with thousands of letters requesting 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. Ratliff was off duty at the time of the shootings.

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. Neither officer was wounded.

Ratliff got 10 to 15 years for the manslaughter conviction, as well as a term of two years and eight months to four years for assault with a firearm for shooting at a third officer.

All the penalties were concurrent, except for a two-year sentence for using a firearm during commission of a felony. As a result, Ratliff will be eligible for parole in 10 years.

Before sentencing, Kolenda allowed Irons’ friends, family and co-workers to address the court.

Many said Ratliff should receive the maximum penalty because Ratliff never showed remorse for the killing, although he apologized to fellow officers moments after shooting at them.

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

He shot Irons in the throat in her chambers, then followed as she fled into a hallway, firing another shot.

″The jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter ... but we know that Mr. Ratliff leveled his gun at her and watched for what must surely have seemed an eternity before stealing her life away in the blink of an eye,″ her parents, James and Virginia Irons, said through their daughter’s attorney and friend, Diann Landers.

″I think our message was heard,″ said Attorney Sara Smolenski, a friend of the late judge who helped organize the Carol S. Irons Committee for Justice, which staged rallies protesting the Ratliff verdict and domestic violence.

Defense attorney Grant Gruel said a decision on an appeal has not been made.