GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Kent County judge has ruled that Alpine Manor nursing home killer Catherine Wood should be released on parole.
Circuit Court Judge J. Joseph Rossi determined that the Michigan Parole Board did not abuse its discretion when it ordered her release last year.
Wood has remained in prison since the parole board’s ruling, waiting for the court to determine her fate.
The judge’s ruling led to quick reaction from families of Wood’s five victims.
“My biggest concern is that she will find a way to harm someone else,” said Stephani Scruggs, the granddaughter of victim Mae Mason. “She’s an incredibly manipulative human being.”
The earliest Wood, 57, will be set free is Nov. 5, a Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman said.
Gwen Graham and Wood were both nurse’s aides at what was then Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker the late 1980s when they suffocated five elderly patients. They were also a couple. They were charged with killing five elderly women suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia in 1986 and 1987.
Wood cooperated with police, telling them that Graham suffocated the women with washcloths while she was the lookout. She told them they were trying to spell ‘murder’ with their initials.
Graham, now 55, recently told News 8 that the murders never happened and that Wood concocted the story out of vengeance.
Graham got life in prison without parole. Wood, who was the prosecutor’s key witness, got 20 to 40 years.
Wood has been held in a federal prison in Florida to keep her apart from Graham, who is in Michigan’s only women’s prison. Wood has served 30 years of her sentence and, under previous good behavior laws, would have been released no later than June 2021.
The parole board had denied Wood’s release eight times before, saying she wasn’t remorseful and would pose a threat, but an attorney for the parole board has said she now shows remorse and would not pose a threat.
Her victims’ families appealed, arguing that she was more involved in the killings than she has admitted, is gaming the system and is faking remorse. They believe she’d kill again.
Earlier this year, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed a brief opposing the decision to parole Wood.
The judge’s ruling found the parole board didn’t abuse its discretion when it said she had done well in prison, was rehabilitated and no longer posed a threat.
“For Ms. Wood’s part, she has maintained her good behavior and composure, despite the legal process keeping her in limbo for over a year,” Judge Rossi wrote. “She has conducted herself appropriately during court appearances, giving further credence to the (parole) board’s recommendation.”
Stephani Scruggs, whose grandmother was among the victims, helped lead the legal fight to keep Wood in prison.
“I was kind of numb,” she said of the ruling. “I couldn’t quite believe it, honestly. I honestly thought we made a very good case as to why she shouldn’t get out.
“It’s a case of unfortunately what happens in our republic where bureaucracy gets out of hand and bureaucracy thinks it knows better than everyone else.”
Scruggs said she believes there’s no legal recourse to fight the release, but said the case shows the need to change the law that allows serial killers to take advantage of old “good behavior” credits.
“That’s like giving Son of Sam time off for good behavior,” Scruggs said. “That would never happen anywhere else.
“I don’t believe that you can rehabilitate a serial killer.”
The ruling shows that Wood plans to live with a sister in South Carolina. The parole board also planned to add a provision to keep Wood from working with vulnerable adults and children.
“This additional requirement, notably absent from the (Parole) Board’s previous recommendations, requires Ms. Wood to avoid the setting where her crimes occurred,” the judge wrote.