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Many People Expected to Address Court Before Sentencing in Judge’s Death

June 11, 1989

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) _ Activists for battered women are advocating the maximum sentence for a man convicted of manslaughter in the shooting of his estranged wife, a county judge. Sentencing was set for Monday.

When Judge Carol Irons was shot to death in her chambers eight months ago by Clarence Ratliff, a former police officer who was her estranged husband, deputy clerk Mary Harrison tried to stanch Irons’ bleeding.

Harrison still has nightmares about the shooting and attends weekly counseling sessions. She says she’ll be among the many people expected to speak Monday before Ratliff’s sentencing.

″This has consumed me for months now,″ said Harrison. ″Now, I want ‘Rat’ (Ratliff) to know what he’s done to us here, the whole building. He didn’t just kill Carol, though that was horrifying enough in itself. He’s changed all our lives.

″We’ll never be the same again.″

A thousand people rallied last month outside the county Hall of Justice to protest the voluntary manslaughter conviction. On May 11, a jury acquitted Ratliff of first-degree murder, which carries a possible sentence of life in prison without parole. Ratliff, 53, testified that he was drunk and upset over their impending divorce and did not mean to kill Irons, 40. Manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 15 years.

The jury also convicted Ratliff of attempted murder for firing at two officers who tried to help Irons - a conviction that carries a potential sentence of life in prison with possibility of parole.

″We are outraged that the murder of a woman is considered less serious than shooting at - and missing - two men,″ said Dotti Clune, one of those who protested the verdict.

Another deputy clerk, Danielle Smith, said she also would address Kent County Circuit Judge Dennis C. Kolenda before the sentencing.

Smith, 27, said she opened the locked door to let Ratliff into his wife’s chambers on the day of the shooting.

″At first, though, when it was happening, I laid under a desk and thought, ’God, I let that man in 3/8″ she recalled.

Also planning to speak are former college classmates of Irons who formed the Carol S. Irons Committee for Justice in response to the Ratliff verdict.

Kolenda said he was told Irons’ brother, Peter, would speak. Her parents, James and Virginia Irons of Farwell, have asked an attorney to speak on their behalf.

Ratliff will also have a chance to address the court before he is sentenced.

″This is the time for the defendant to tell me anything he wants me to consider, so he can’t complain later something was said to which he didn’t have a chance to respond,″ Kolenda said.

″I plan to be very explicit in explaining the process, what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I take time with every defendant,″ he said. ″But I’ll be especially careful here, because I want absolutely no room for complaints on appeal and because there are so many people interested in this.″

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