Family of Harry Wolfe, officials unite to oppose release of man who killed the sheriff
In January 1982, Stanley Penn murdered Union County Sheriff Harry Wolfe.
He pleaded guilty to the crime and was sentenced in 1983 to prison — 27 years to life.
Later this year, Penn, now 68, will come up for parole — his second bite at the apple.
Citing only “fair” conduct and “poor” programing in the prison, in February 2008, the Ohio Department of Corrections’ Parole Board rejected Penn’s first request for release.
“I think there was a lot of public input and a lot of law enforcement input and of course, they denied his request,” Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips said. “I would like to see a similar response this time.”
Family and law enforcement officials say the county was changed that day and still grieves what it lost.
“Words cannot explain the devastation caused by Stanley Penn to the Wolfe family, the Sheriff’s Office, and the Union County Community,” Sheriff Jamie Patton said. “The loss of Sheriff Wolfe has never been forgotten and it never will be.”
Cindy Wolfe, who is married to Harry Wolfe’s son, Steve, was not part of the family at the time of the murder.
“Still, to this day, people in the Plain City area and around the county, when they discover I am Steve’s wife, tell me stories of Steve’s dad,” Cindy Wolfe said. “This county still grieves. It still affects people and some people it affects every day still.”
Cindy was living in Columbus, not part of the family, when the former sheriff was shot.
“At the time, I remember thinking, ‘This man was really loved and respected, not only in that county but also around the state,’” Cindy Wolfe said.
According to Journal-Tribune reports, On Jan. 21, 1982, Sheriff Wolfe went to a home on Robinson Road in Jerome Township to investigate a burglar alarm.
Wolfe had taken a prisoner to Columbus and was returning to Marysville when he heard the call about the break-in on Robinson Road. The sheriff did not radio to let anyone know he was headed to the scene, but witnesses saw Wolfe speed off toward Robinson Road.
When deputies arrived at the scene, they found the sheriff dead, shot multiple times.
Chet DeLong, a former detective with the Columbus Division of Police, investigated the murder. He said Wolfe ran a license plate number when he got to the scene.
An audio recording from the home security alarm reveals that Wolfe told someone to come to him. The command was followed by a brief scuffle and a thud, then several shots in rapid succession.
“We don’t know for sure what happened,” DeLong said. “Harry Wolfe was no wimp. He could hold his own. He was very strong. In my opinion, someone suckered him… but.”
DeLong said, “There is no way we will ever know” because Penn doesn’t talk much about the murder and when he does, he gives conflicting reports.
“He said he was alone one time. One time he said he had someone with him,” said Delong.
The investigator said there is a lot of speculation on a lot of matters, “we can guess, but there was no concrete evidence.”
Union County Prosecutor Dave Phillips said his office has repeatedly tried to interview Penn and learn what happened. He said knowing what happened could help bring closure to the family and community. Penn has rejected every interview request.
Phillips said even before killing the sheriff, Penn had “a long history of criminal behavior.” At the time of the killing, Penn was actually on probation.
According to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections, Penn was released from prison in November of 1980 after serving a penitentiary sentence for an Attempted Aggravated Burglary conviction out of Cuyahoga County
Because of his history and because he killed a law enforcement officer, Penn could have been eligible for capital punishment. Larry Schneider, former Union County prosecutor, had planned to seek the death penalty until the sheriff’s widow asked him not to do so.
“That was not her belief,” Cindy Wolfe said. “I give her a lot of credit. I don’t know that given that situation, I would have had that kind of clarity.”
Penn pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated burglary and grand theft.
Phillips said just because he is alive does not mean he should not be in prison.
“Frankly, but for the family’s beliefs, he would have faced the death penalty and while he was spared the death penalty, that doesn’t mean he should ever go free,” Phillips said.
Cindy Wolfe said she was “naive.” She said she thought if someone were given a life sentence, it meant the person wasn’t ever up for parole.
“A jury found him guilty and gave him a life sentence,” Cindy Wolfe said. “I feel like he should spend his life in prison.”
She said family members are pretty united in their belief Penn should remain in prison.
“He has a future. There is a tomorrow for him until the Lord decides to take him,” Cindy Wolfe said. “That’s not the case for Steve and his brother or even his grandson.”
She added that freedom for a man in prison as long as Penn has been there is not always a good thing.
“If he is paroled, what is he going to do? What type of support system does he have?” asked Wolfe. “I am not sure there is a future out there for him. There is a future for him if he remains in prison. He has a routine. He has food, a roof, medical attention if he needs it.”
Officials from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitations and Corrections did not respond to requests for information about the process for the hearings other than to say it would take place Dec. 11, at the prison.
Law enforcement officials say they want to make sure Penn never sees freedom.
Earlier this month, Patton, Schneider and a contingent from Union County met with the Ohio Parole Board in Columbus to oppose Penn’s release.
Members of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as others in law enforcement have been sending letters to the parole board in opposition to Penn’s release.
“The man don’t belong on the street, he just don’t” DeLong said.
He added, “I have my fingers crossed he is going to get flopped again, we hope another 10 years.”
The former and prosecutor said they also feel Peen should stay where he is.
“I wrote a letter to the Ohio Parole Board in October 1983 and told them that Stanley Penn should never be released under any circumstances,” said Scheider. “I still feel that way today.”
Phillips said he believes Penn, “represents pure evil.”
Cindy Wolfe said the family does not want to be the center of attention, but knows there are community members who would like to have their voice heard before the parole board decides to let Penn walk out of Chillicothe Correctional Institution as a free man.
“I think that there are people who, if they know about it, would want to contribute something,” Cindy Wolfe said.
Patton and Phillips are urging Union County residents with feelings about Penn’s release to write to the parole board.
“I think there is still a lot of healing that this county needs and I don’t think that healing will happen if he is released,” Cindy Wolfe said.
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