GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A judge has directed the Michigan Parole Board to once again decide whether a woman who participated in the murders of five elderly nursing home patients should get out of prison or spend another two years locked up.
The timing of Catherine Wood’s release has been in the hands of Kent County Circuit Court Judge J. Joseph Rossi after family members of the elderly victims filed a lawsuit to block her parole.
In a five-page ruling released Thursday, June 20, Rossi directed the Michigan Parole Board to again review Wood's case, but to be more thorough this time around.
“A potential serial killer who conspired to commit a series of murders to keep her lover cannot become a mere checkmark in the press of the Court’s or the Board’s daily business,’’ Rossi wrote. “The assurance of public safety requires an exceptional level of diligence and care in arriving at this decision.’’
The parole board in September decided to let Wood out of prison, spurring a lawsuit in Kent County Circuit Court.
Rossi had three options: let her out immediately, keep her locked up for two more years or send the case back to the parole board.
In sending the case back to the parole board, Rossi asked that Wood's mental state be better scrutinized. He also wants to make sure she doesn't find work in a nursing home.
“The most glaring omission is the lack of any restriction on Ms. Wood caring for elderly or disabled individuals as a condition of parole,’’ Rossi wrote.
He also noted there was no recent psychological evaluation of Wood by a fully-licensed examiner.
“Exploration of defendant’s current mental state, considering her past deviant behavior, requires an examination and report by a fully licensed psychologist, rather than an intern,’’ Rossi wrote.
Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Chris Gautz said Rossi’s decision will be reviewed by parole board members.
We’re certainly reviewing the ruling, but we don’t have any decisions or announcements on what the next steps are,’’ Gautz said. “We still need to read through it.’’
Attorney John Engman, whose mother-in-law was one of the victims, says he wants Wood to stay locked up for as long as possible.
“We simply do not need serial killers released in our community, or anyone’s community for that matter,’’ he said. “She should not be getting out.’’
The parole board had considered -- and denied -- Wood’s parole eight times, including in 2016. Each time, the denial was due to the severity of Wood’s crimes and the threat she posed to public safety.
In her ninth request, Wood was granted parole. Family members of the victims went to court to block her release, which was slated to occur Oct. 24, 2018.
Wood was convicted of second-degree murder for her role in the 1987 deaths of five elderly victims at Alpine Manor nursing home in Walker.
A co-defendant, Gwendolyn Graham, was sentenced to life without parole. Graham, 55, is in a state prison in Ypsilanti.
Wood, 57, is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Tallahassee, Fla.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel last month filed a brief opposing the parole board decision to release Wood from prison.
Nessel argued that the parole board abused its discretion in granting parole because it had insufficient information “to assure that Wood will not be a menace to society; especially given Wood’s history of thrill killings.’’
Nessel said Wood’s crimes “reveal a level of depravity such that she cannot be trusted in society.’’
“Wood preyed on those who could not defend themselves,’’ she wrote. “Not only that, she preyed on people she was responsible for taking care of.’’
Nessel’s brief asked Rossi to reverse the parole board’s decision or, in the alternative, require the parole board to re-evaluate its decision “to take into proper account the severity of Wood’s crimes.’’
As it stands now, Wood is slated to get out of prison on June 6, 2021. Wood has already served 29 years on a sentence of 20 to 40-years for second-degree murder.
►Make it easy to keep up to date with more stories like this. Download the 13 ON YOUR SIDE app now.