Alpine Manor parole catches prosecutor off guard

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The upcoming release from prison of one of the infamous Alpine Manor Nursing Home killers is raising serious questions about how prosecutors are notified about parole rulings.

While some of the victims’ families say the Michigan Department of Corrections sent them a notice about Catherine Wood’s pending release, the Kent County prosecutor said he was taken by surprise.

“The first time I heard about it was on the news,” Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

Becker said his office just received the prison system’s notice of Wood’s release Thursday. It was dated Sept. 24.

He said the prison system should have notified his office before her Sept. 18 parole board hearing, giving him a chance to object.

“I’ve gotten letters before the parole hearings saying, ‘Hey, we’re preparing to parole this person,'” he said.

In an email to 24 Hour News 8, prison spokesman Chris Gautz said the state doesn’t send out notices before every parole hearing and is not required to. There are 10,000 hearings a year, he said.

He added the prosecutor could have learned about Wood’s parole hearing on his own, before the fact, through a web-based portal set up by the prison system especially for prosecutors.

“That is why we have the web-based portal that we have trained prosecutor’s offices on how to use, so they have the ability to go in and see who is having a parole board interview, and other information,” Gautz wrote.

He said the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office has five registered users.

“Two of them appear to have never logged on, and the last time any of the other three used the system was in 2014,” Gautz wrote.

But Becker said he’d never heard of the portal.

“I have no idea. I don’t know what it is,” Becker said. “I don’t know about it, my chief assistant didn’t know about it, the head of my Victim/Witness didn’t know about it. My two office managers didn’t know about it. So I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Becker has been prosecutor for nearly two years and was an assistant in the office for 21 years before that.

Two members of the parole board, Sonia Warchock and Ricardo Moore, granted Wood’s parole on Sept. 18 and set a release date for later this month.

The former nurse’s aide has served 29 years of a 20- to 40-year sentence for her role in the 1987 murders of five elderly women at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker. Her accomplice, Gwen Graham, is serving life in prison without parole.

Notice of her release gave the families and the prosecutor 28 days to file an appeal. Three of the five families say they’ll fight it.

The prosecutor said his office is considering it, though he said it won’t be easy. They’d have to prove the parole board abused its discretion.

“You have to say something really bad happened. In essence, that they should not have made that decision,” he said. “So it’s an uphill battle.”

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