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Spring Lake murderer denied shorter sentence

Becky Vargo • Dec 25, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Gov. Rick Snyder granted 61 requests for clemency last week, but convicted murderer Ron Redick’s name was not on that list. 

The list containing the end-of-term pardons and commutations was released Dec. 21.

Redick, 81, formerly of Spring Lake, made his own application for commutation (shortening) of his sentence. A hearing by the Michigan Parole Board was held Nov. 15 at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia. 

Redick has been in prison since late 1991 for the murder of his business partner, 55-year-old Ken Kunkel of Holland. Redick was sentenced to life without parole for premeditated, first-degree murder.

“I’m encouraged that Redick’s name is not on the list,” Capt. Mark Bennett of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office said Monday. “As you know, in the most recent hearing, he finally admitted to killing Mr. Kunkel after denying it for years, and now trying to place some blame on the victim. That is tragic. Redick is where he should be for the rest of his life.”

Richard Kunkel, the murder victim’s younger brother, said he is relieved that it is over.

“I feel sorry for the Redick family, just like I feel sorry for my family,” he said. “We’re all victims.”

But like Bennett, Kunkel said that Ron Redick is where he belongs. He also said his family was confident that a man serving life without parole would not get his sentence shortened.

Redick was initially incarcerated at the 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 weeks) trial in Ottawa County history, according to Ottawa County Prosecutor Ron Frantz. 

Frantz was one of six people present at the November parole board hearing who vocalized objections to Redick’s release. Frantz was also the prosecutor at the murder trial in 1991.

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 the parole board hearing, Redick claimed that he has owned up to what he had done and has worked hard to change his attitude during his time in prison.

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 Ron 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.”

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

A report and recommendation to the governor was also to be prepared by Jerome Warfield, the parole board member who also attended the hearing.

Chris Kunkel said that he was aware of Redick’s name not being on the commutation list, but he did not respond further to a request for a comment.

The Tribune was also not able to reach Ottawa County officials due to the Christmas holiday.

Redick’s next chance for commutation would be with the end of incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s term.

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.

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