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AG wants Redick to stay in prison

Becky Vargo • Nov 15, 2018 at 6:54 PM

IONIA — The small parole boardroom at an Ionia prison was packed Thursday with family members, both for and against the release of convicted murderer Ron Redick.

The 81-year-old Spring Lake resident has been in prison since late 1991 for the murder of his business partner, 55-year-old Ken Kunkel of Holland.

The four-hour-long public hearing at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility was held at Redick’s request. Redick also attended and participated in the hearing.

Redick claimed that he has owned up to what he has done and has worked hard to change his attitude during his time in prison.

Despite accolades Redick has received for mentoring and teaching while behind the gates, state Assistant Attorney General Scott Rothermel said his office would object to the commutation of Redick’s sentence.

Following the hearing, Parole Board member Jerome Warfield said he would now create a summary report to take to the full board before that entity makes a recommendation to outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder. Snyder will then make his own decision on whether or not Redick will be freed. All of this could take a few weeks, but it must be done before Snyder leaves office at the end of the year, Warfield said.

Redick is serving life without parole for premeditated, first-degree murder. He was initially incarcerated at Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon. In 1997, he was transferred to the Carson City Correctional Facility.

Redick was found guilty of murder following the longest (10-week) trial in Ottawa County history, according to Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz. The prosecutor was one of six people present at Thursday’s hearing who vocalized objections to Redick’s release. Frantz was also the prosecutor at the murder trial.

Retired Ottawa County Sheriff Gary Rosema, who was the detective on the case in 1991, also placed an objection.

The murder victim’s daughter, Barbara Rose; son, Chris Kunkel; brother, Richard Kunkel; and sister, Karen Wheaton, also voiced objections.

“This is a day I don’t want to relive,” said Richard Kunkel, who traveled from Florida for the hearing. “I don’t want to be here.”

Richard Kunkel described how awful it was for his family to be told that, initially, his older brother died in a crash, and then, a day later, to be told it had become a homicide investigation.

During Thursday’s hearing, officials asked Redick about the events that led up to his partner’s death. They also asked Redick why he thinks he’s ready for parole and what he planned to do if he was released.

The murder

Redick and Kunkel purchased a failing office furniture parts manufacturing company in 1989 and moved it to Spring Lake Township. The two men had previously worked together at Herman Miller — Redick in engineering and Kunkel in sales. Redick called himself the “deep pockets” of the operation, but he said Kunkel was a 50 percent partner in stock ownership.

Kunkel had decided to leave the company for a more stable workplace with better pay, Redick said.

On Feb. 4, 1991, the two men were supposed to go to Grand Rapids to meet with an attorney to finalize the separation of the partnership. Prior to that, they drove Kunkel’s car to the back of the building to look at a tank they were planning to sell, Redick said.

Redick told the parole board representative that Kunkel insulted him about his work and made disparaging comments about Redick’s wife. 

“It got tense,” Redick said, noting that Kunkel moved toward him and he grabbed a metal bar from a scrap pile and swung it at his partner.

“I lost it. It’s my fault,” he told the parole board representative.

Warfield noted that he has read every statement Redick has ever made and he has never said before that Kunkel moved toward him.

Redick answered that he was saying it now because he wanted to get to the truth.

Redick said he struck Kunkel a second time, became upset at what he had done and decided to stage a crash because everyone already knew of their plan to go to Grand Rapids. Redick put the body in Kunkel’s car, cleaned up the blood inside the building and drove the car out to Polkton Township, before pulling off the road and going down a hill and hitting a tree.

Frantz said there was minimal damage to the vehicle and it was just hours later that day that police were questioning Redick about what happened.

Redick told police that Kunkel was driving, looked at his cellphone, lost control of the car and it went off the road. In doing so, Redick claimed Kunkel was partially ejected from the vehicle, striking his head.

Redick maintained his innocence for almost 20 years, finally confessing to his brother, and then before the parole board, in 2010.

At the hearing, Rosema said that it was during the autopsy that it was determined Kunkel’s death was a homicide. 

Redick told the board that, if released, he would live with his older brother in Spring Lake and that he would continue counseling and work on projects to help other people, much like he has been doing for many years in prison.

His plans were backed up by his daughter, Leanne Wilson, who has maintained close contact with her father; and by his nephew, Michael Redick. Michael said his family was committed to helping Redick.

Also speaking on Redick’s behalf were his friend and pastor, Gaylan Rasmussen; Rasmussen’s wife, Carolyn; Redick’s attorney, Robyn Frankel; and his counselor, Kathleen Schaefer.

“I am convinced that Ron has a humble attitude,” Carolyn said. “I know he has a desire to improve and help people around him.”

Chris Kunkel, who was 15 at the time of the murder, said he couldn’t imagine his kids going through what he and his siblings did, being without a father all these years.

“I truly believe Mr. Redick deserves to be released from prison as much as my father deserved to die,” he said.

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