"A victim of a botched trial, a wrongful conviction, a wrongful sentence of 'Life with out Parole'" [Commutation of sentence requested for review by Governor Thomas J. Vilsack, on December 13, 1999; submitted by John Hartog]
An unfortunate teenage brawl at 1:20 am on Saturday, August 16, 1986 at a Council Bluffs, Iowa, supermarket parking-lot, ended up in the tragic death of 19-year-old Timothy Sieff. Three 17-year-old youths and a 24-year-old male were charged with the killing.
A Des Moines Register article of May 29, 1994, picked up on the story of the four involved in the deadly altercation of 8 years earlier - that's when I became intensely motivated to get Jeffrey K. Ragland out of prison, because I felt that this article reflected undeniably some lucid corruption of justice, and Ragland became its victim.
Let me quote from the four opening paragraphs, as reported by the Register's Staff Writer Tom Witosky: ""Jeffrey Ragland didn't kill Timothy Sieff, but he is serving a prison term for life without the possibility of parole (anyway)."
"Matthew Gill killed Sieff. But Gill was freed on parole after serving (just) 28 months of a 50-year sentence."
"The cases of Ragland and Gill have raised questions - from prison employees, friends of Sieff, and Ragland and his family - about the way Iowa's courts and prisons operate."
"Sieff, 19, was killed in August 1986 when Gill, then 17, struck him once with the metal shaft from a car jack during a brawl in a Council Bluffs parking lot."
About halfway in his article, Witosky reports: "'Joseph Hrvol, who prosecuted the two cases, said the Pottawattamie County attorney's office offered to let Gill, Ragland, and two companions plead guilty to less serious charges. All but Ragland accepted the offer 'We offered Jeff Ragland a deal in which he would serve 20 years, and would be eligible for parole.' Hvrol said."
Gill accepted the plea [-bargain] and confessed to second-degree murder. Ragland went to [jury] trial on the original charge, first-degree murder, and was found guilty under a provision of law that makes an accessory in a homicide as culpable as the person actually killing someone." [Ragland reasoned: "I DIDN'T KILL ANYBODY; WHY SHOULD I PLEA-BARGAIN!"]
In his article, Witosky specifically referred also to the role of a banker by trade and a lawyer by training, who apparently with great intrigue had influenced the early release of his protégé, Matthew Gill - it was Frank "Skip" Starr, who ingratiated himself with prison administrators and other state officials, including then Gov. Terry Branstad's staff. The article makes further mention that Starr had contributed $2,750 to Branstad's political campaigns, and how he had befriended Gill through regular prison-visits.
Witosky in addition had related to Starr's remarks: ". . . what has happened to Mat Gill and Jeff Ragland [who both were to graduate the following year from Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs], and Tim Sieff, is a sad commentary on justice and the law. What happened to Tim Sieff was unforgivable - the tragedy endured, however, because of the system" Starr said, and continued: "It is not a justice system, it is a legal system . . . in reality, this was not a murder case; it was a manslaughter case!"
It is absolutely inconceivable how Iowa's Court of Appeals could decline Ragland's request for a retrial hearing in 1990 and 1994. That's why we pray that Governor Thomas J. Vilsack may favorably consider Jeff Ragland's application for commutation of his wrongful sentence, an issue that has been totally ignored by the previous administration, and as a result is causing an abnormal backlog in reviewing all these cases - what a difference in the concept and philosophy of justice - must we raise more public awareness on how Iowa treats its citizens?
Jeffrey K. Ragland 803013 / Iowa State Correction Center/406 N. High St. / POB 10 / Anamost - IA - 52205-0010