Prosecutor won’t appeal release of Alpine Manor killer

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County prosecutor will not appeal the release of one of the two nurse’s aides convicted in the Alpine Manor nursing home murders.

Catherine Wood, now 57, has served 29 years of her 20- to 40-year sentence in the 1987 murders. She was granted parole Oct. 1 and is set to be released Oct. 24.

“It’s scary to think that she is going to be out there because if she could hide this before, she could definitely hide this again,” Lori Fairbanks, whose grandmother was one of the victims, told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday after the prosecutor released his decision.

“She was a rock. She was loved and I miss her,” her sister, Denise Ceccon, said of their grandmother, Belle Burkhard.

The parole board decided that Wood would not be a menace to society if released, saying, among other things, that she accepts responsibility for her role in the crime, behaved well in prison and has support from family or community members.

But the sisters feel Wood will kill again.

“How do you change that train of thought?” Fairbanks wondered.

Some may argue that 11 more years in prison wouldn’t make a difference, but the sisters disagree. If she were to serve her entire sentence, Wood would be nearly 70 when released.

“I don’t think she would have the stamina,” Ceccon said, “possibly even the mental ability to do something like that at that age.”

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said he wouldn’t appeal the parole board’s decision for several reasons.

He said the Michigan Department of Corrections correctly followed all its procedures as required and there is no precedent for an appeals court overturning a parole board decision when those procedures are followed.

Becker also cited Wood’s MDOC record, saying she has had an appropriate record while in prison and hasn’t done anything inappropriate while incarcerated, so there is no basis to argue her release.

Wood’s cooperation with authorities during the trial against her and co-defendant Gwendolyn Graham was also a part of Becker’s decision. Becker said he found a 1989 letter from David Schieber, who was the prosecutor in the case, that described Wood’s cooperation as instrumental in the final verdict. Schieber also requested Wood be transferred to the federal prison system due to concerns for her safety.

“Ms. Wood pled to her charges and gave full and complete cooperation with our office, including testimony against her co-defendant, Gwen Graham,” the letter says. “Ms. Wood is a former lover of her co-defendant and without her testimony Ms. Graham would not have been convicted of five counts of first-degree murder.”

Parole hearings are not made public. Victim’s families can be made aware of the hearings if they sign up for alerts, but Fairbanks and Cesson said they were unaware of that until it was too late. They think their input could have kept Wood behind bars.

Family members of three of the five Alpine Manor murder victims had said they planned to fight the release and file an appeal in Kent County Circuit Court, but Fairbanks and Ceccon now say they are done fighting and respect the prosecutor’s decision.

Wood and Graham suffocated five elderly women in their beds at the 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 was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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