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Could SL man serving life sentence be set free?

Becky Vargo • Oct 19, 2018 at 10:00 AM

The end of a governor’s term usually means there will be a rush on parole board hearings from people seeking pardons or shortened sentences from capital crimes.

An 81-year-old Spring Lake man who is serving a life sentence for murder will have his case heard next month.

Ronald Lee Redick was found guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder following a two-month-long jury trial in Ottawa County Circuit Court that ended Nov. 7, 1991. A month later, Judge Wesley Nykamp sentenced Redick to life in prison without parole.

Redick, who was 53 at the time, was convicted of killing his business partner, 55-year-old Kenneth Kunkel, also of Spring Lake, and staging a car crash to cover up the man’s death. The incident occurred Feb. 4, 1991.

Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz argued during the trial that Redick killed his partner with a blunt, angled instrument behind the KR Corp. of Spring Lake Township, a business the two men founded in 1989. Redick then staged a car crash on Leonard Road in Polkton Township to make Kunkel’s death look like an accident.

The prosecution also noted that the two men had a serious argument a few days before the crash. They were in the process of dissolving their partnership, according to testimony in the trial. They were supposed to be on their way to Grand Rapids to meet with an attorney at the time of the crash.

Redick claimed his innocence throughout the court proceedings.

The hearing on the possible commutation (shortening) of Redick’s sentence is scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility, 1728 Bluewater Highway (M-21) in Ionia.

Frantz, who is still the chief prosecuting attorney for Ottawa County, said he plans to be at the hearing, but he is not sure at this time if he will be speaking at it.

Michigan Department of Corrections spokesperson Chris Gautz said that anyone who wants to speak at the hearing could send a letter to the parole board, or show up at the hearing and let officials know they would like to speak.

Chris Kunkel, a Kentucky resident and the youngest son of Kenneth Kunkel, said his father’s death and the trial was a rough time in his life, but he was not living in Michigan when it happened. Chris said that he would be talking to his siblings about whether or not anyone from the family would attend the hearing.

Older brother Dave Kunkel, 60, a Grand Haven Township resident, said that he is aware of the hearing and that some members of the family have written letters to the parole board. He does not plan to attend the hearing.

“Both of my daughters wrote letters that basically said, regardless of how many years (Redick) has done, he was sentenced to life without parole,” Dave said. “He is alive and my dad’s still dead. We would prefer he never gets out.”

Dave Kunkel said he’s been told by the Ottawa County victim advocate that Redick is in good health, though he did have cancer in the past.

 

It is unknown at this time who requested the commutation hearing.

“Anybody can petition the governor for one,” Gautz said.

Redick’s son, Ronald Milton Redick, declined to comment, other than to clarify that he has no role or involvement in the process of his father seeking a commutation of his sentence. A Grand Rapids attorney, the younger Redick is a member of the Grand Haven Township Board of Trustees.

The Michigan Department of Corrections Parole Board considers the application and determines whether or not it has enough merit to hold a hearing. If the board decides a case does not have merit, the request goes directly to the governor for a decision. If the parole board believes it has merit, the request is sent to the prosecutor and the judge in the sentencing county to see if there are any objections to a hearing. If there are no objections, a hearing is held.

Gautz said the parole board would ask about Redick’s plans after leaving the prison if the commutation is granted. Board members will also review his behavior while in prison.

Redick will also be questioned, in detail, about the incident that sent him to prison, Gautz said.

Gautz said a decision is not made on the day of the hearing. It usually takes 2-3 weeks to get a transcript back, and then one of the parole board members who attended the hearing will write a report. That report goes before the entire 10-member board, which will then make a recommendation to the governor.

The final decision, no matter what the recommendation, will be up to the governor, Gautz said.

This all has to be done before the end of the year, or prior to Gov. Rick Snyder’s term ends.

Redick currently resides at the Carson City Correctional Facility. He is considered a security level II.

Note: The difference between a pardon and a commutation is that a pardon wipes out the conviction, whereas a commutation shortens a sentence.

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