KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Garry Douglas got the bittersweet news from the parole board in a letter mailed to his Cleveland home.
The good news, for Douglas, was that the man who killed his 18-year-old daughter would remain in jail after his bid for early release was rejected.
The bad news was that the 55-year-old Douglas will go through the whole process in two more years when Shannon Ratliff again is eligible for parole from his 26-year prison sentence.
“I’m pleased,” Douglas said, “but it seems like the more time that goes by he has a better chance of getting out.”
Ratliff, now 34, has been refused parole three times since he started serving in 2001 an eight- to 26-year sentence. Each time, Douglas made the seven-hour trek to the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City, Tenn., to oppose Ratliff’s release.
Ratliff was convicted of two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and three counts of vehicular assault.
Ratliff had already been arrested twice on drunken driving offenses before the 10:21 p.m. Sept. 25, 1999, crash. Ratliff was exceeding the speed limit by 28 mph on Beaver Creek Drive when the Mustang he was driving slammed into a 1969 Buick containing five women as it backed from a driveway.
The impact killed Cynthia Douglas and 21-year-old Misty Carrier, who was driving the car. Three other women were injured, including two with broken pelvises. The women were students at The Crown College of the Bible, a ministry of Temple Baptist Church in Powell.
Ratliff’s blood alcohol content was 0.23 percent.
Garry Douglas has two major disappointments regarding the Tennessee legal system.
“I fault the court system for not punishing him for his other drunken driving cases,” Douglas said. “If the court had done its job, he wouldn’t have been out to kill my daughter.”
And Douglas can’t understand why the legal system doesn’t view drunken driving crashes as premeditated murder meriting longer prison sentences.
“He chose not to go to work that night,” Douglas said. “He chose to violate his restricted license. He chose to get drunk and drive. The car is the same as a gun.”
Douglas can’t change those things, but he’ll continue “to do my best to see he stays in prison.”
Credits for good behavior and educational programs already have slashed six years from Ratliff’s sentence, according to the state Department of Correction. His release date without the benefit of parole is 2021 and he will continue to garner sentence reduction credits with each passing month.
“I know one day he’s going to get out,” Douglas said. But Douglas’ grief will continue after Ratliff gains freedom.
“You can’t get over it,” he said. “You just get through it.”
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