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Why court granted release of repeat sex offender who molested teenage stepdaughter in Warren

Court of Appeals reverses judge’s decision to halt release of Ronald Irwin

Ronald Lee Irwin (WDIV)

MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. – A court has granted the release of a repeat sex offender who was imprisoned years ago for molesting his 15-year-old stepdaughter in Warren.

In 2012, Ronald Lee Irwin, 49, pleaded no contest to second-degree criminal sexual conduct and pleaded guilty to failure to register as a sex offender.

Sex offender history

Officials said Irwin had placed his hands under his stepdaughter’s underwear while she was sleeping on the couch. He claimed it was an accident, but when he later gave her instructions on how to masturbate and asked to watch, she reported both incidents, according to authorities.

At the time of the incident, Irwin had two prior criminal sexual assault convictions, officials said.

In 1992, Irwin pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting a child between 13 and 16 years old, officials said.

He pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in 1993 for having sexual contact with another person between ages 13 and 16, police said. He sexually assaulted a 14-year-old neighbor when he was 22 years old, according to court records.

Irwin served 12 years in prison for his convictions and was required to register as a sex offender.

Parole battle

Irwin became eligible for parole in 2015. He was denied parole twice before the board granted it in 2017.

The prosecutor appealed the decision, however, arguing that the board abused its discretion because there wasn’t reasonable assurance that Irwin didn’t pose a threat to society.

Here’s what the prosecutor cited in his appeal:

  • Irwin’s poor sex offender therapy progress.
  • A 2013 sexual misconduct ticket Irwin received in prison.
  • The board’s parole condition that required Irwin to complete a residential sex offender program. The prosecutor essentially argued that if he needed to complete this program upon parole, that in itself proved there was still risk of him committing another offense.

The circuit court agreed with the prosecutor, pointing to Irwin’s record of similar offenses, failure to respond to past sex offender therapy, continuing attraction to young girls and his conviction for failing to register as a sex offender.

Irwin argued that the circuit court had erred in reversing the decision to grant his parole. His team argued that the prosecutor is required to “show either that the board’s decision was a clear abuse of discretion or in violation of the Michigan Constitution, a statute, an administrative rule or a written agency regulation."

The court of appeals said an abuse of discretion only occurs when the trial court’s decision falls outside the range of reasonable and principled outcomes.

“The reviewing court (in this case, the circuit court) is prohibited from substituting its judgement for that of the (parole) board,” court documents say.

Court records show Irwin has an “average” probability of parole, which means the guidelines surrounding his parole decision “allow for a broader exercise of discretion.”

“In order to grant parole to a prisoner with an average probability of parole, the board need only state legitimate reasons that are neither compelling nor substantial,” the court of appeals stated.

Why Irwin was granted parole

Here are the reasons the board claims it decided to grant Irwin’s parole:

  • A review of his conduct while incarcerated.
  • His participation in and benefit from programs an therapy, including scores on tests designed to assess his risk to re-offend.
  • He served his sentence for failing to register as a sex offender and accepted responsibility for the sexual assault of his stepdaughter.
  • He completed sex offender therapy, prisoner observation aid training and a substance abuse program while in prison.
  • Satisfactory conduct reports show he adequately performed his job details.
  • An Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions score of a low moderate risk for re-offending.
    • His scores for re-entry substance abuse and re-entry cognitive behavior were unlikely, which the board considered positive scores.
    • His scores for educational, re-entry social environment, depression/mental health and re-entry social isolation were highly probable, which the board considered negative scores.
    • His score for re-entry residential instability was probable, which the boar considered a neutral score.
  • The board stated it doesn’t believe requiring a prison to undergo additional treatment as a condition of parole in itself constitutes a violation of granting parole.
  • He completed 37 sessions of sex offender therapy.
  • His sexual misconduct ticket in prison was later reduced to an incident of insolence when no sexual misconduct was found, according to authorities.
  • A therapist said Irwin’s “exploration into his sexual offenses showed growth in his ability to identify cognitive distortions linked to his offending behavior with adequate levels of remorse for his offending behavior and empathy for his victims, primary and secondary."

The reasons above were laid out by the Michigan Court of Appeals in court documents.

It was determined that the decision to grant Irwin parole was “within the range of principled outcomes.” The circuit court abused its discretion by reversing the decision to grant him parole, court records indicate.


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