WALKER, Mich. (WOOD) — Families of three of the five Alpine Manor Nursing Home murder victims vow to fight to keep one of the killer nurse’s aides in prison.
The families plan to appeal the Michigan Parole Board’s ruling to release Catherine Wood after 29 years of her 20- to 40-year prison sentence. Her release date is set for Oct. 24.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, who said the state Department of Corrections failed to notify him about Wood’s parole hearing last month, said he would help the families with their fight.
Becker said he didn’t learn about her pending release until watching a report on 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
DOC spokesman Chris Gautz said the prison system is required by law to notify prosecutors of parole hearings and decisions by the parole board. He said he was trying to determine if that didn’t happen.
Wood, now 57, and her lover, Gwendolyn Graham, suffocated five elderly women in their beds at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker in 1987. All five victims suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia. Wood and Graham, both nurse’s aides at the home, were reportedly trying to spell MURDER with the victims’ initials.
Graham got life in prison without parole. Wood got a plea deal for testifying that Graham was the killer and that she was her lookout.
On Tuesday, the daughter of victim Marguerite Chambers tried to file an appeal in Kent County Circuit Court.
“To avenge my mother, get satisfaction that she’ll never be out again,” Jan Hunderman told 24 Hour News 8.
The Department of Corrections had notified her of last month’s parole hearing, and she said she wrote a letter urging the state to keep Wood locked up.
Wood is being held in a federal prison in Florida to keep her separated from her accomplice, who’s in Michigan’s only women’s prison near Ypsilanti.
The letter from the state notifying Hunderman of Wood’s release gave her 28 days to appeal to Kent County Circuit Court. DOC officials said a Kent County Circuit judge would then have 28 days to issue a leave to appeal and could put a hold on the release until it is settled.
But at the Kent County Circuit Court Clerk’s counter Tuesday, Hunderman was met with confusion.
“I’m here to file an appeal,” Hunderman told a clerk.
“Do you have any of your paperwork for it?” the clerk asked.
“What paperwork did I need?” Hunderman asked.
“That I can’t necessarily tell you because I can’t give you legal advice,” the clerk responded. “We actually don’t carry any of the appeal paperwork.”
The clerk suggested she get that paperwork online through the State Court Administrative Office in Lansing.
“I don’t have access to online,” Hunderman said.
There’s also a fee to file the appeal: $150.
The DOC said families often work with lawyers to appeal a parole ruling.
Hunderman sat through every court hearing and every day of the trial for Wood and Graham.
“Every time she (Wood) filed for parole I wrote a letter,” she said.
Relatives of the victims said they have heard from inmates that Wood has bragged in recent years that she actually did the killing.
“I don’t care if she all of a sudden got Jesus in her heart,” Hunderman said. “He’s never going to forgive her for what she’s done. So now we’ve got to fight again.”
The granddaughters of victim Belle Burkhard said they will join that fight.
“I don’t understand how she’s not forced to complete her 40 years,” granddaughter Denise Ceccon said. “I think that she is a menace to society and I think there should be a public outrage over things like this.
“Catherine is a manipulative mastermind, and I believe she was the person in charge of the whole thing,” Ceccon continued.
“Do we know what’s going to happen?” her sister, Lori Fairbanks, added. “Are people going to be safe? She’s going to be out there and we’re not going to know.”
They believe the nurse’s aides had tried to kill their grandmother once before, breaking her arm.
“They didn’t like her and they wanted her dead,” Ceccon said.
The granddaughters said their family learned of Wood’s pending release by watching the news. Their mother had been getting notices from the state, but she died several years ago.
“I went into a total funk,” after learning of the parole board’s ruling, Ceccon said. “I had a hard time even breathing for a few minutes.”
After leaving the courthouse Tuesday, Marguerite Chambers’ daughter headed to the library, hoping to find the appeals paperwork online.
“I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to my mother,” she said. “They took that away, and they will pay for it.”
**Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Denise Ceccon’s last name as Cesson. We regret the error, which has been corrected.