Short Honeymoon | Miscellany | Chicago Reader

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Short Honeymoon

ron Rakow used his temporary relase from prison to forge a lasting bond.

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By Jeffrey Felshman

You get three rings in marriage: the engagement ring, the wedding ring, and the suffering.

Quinn McGuire got the engagement ring from Ron Rakow in 1994, and after that he asked her to marry him about a dozen times more. Once he told her to forget all about him. She answered no to every request. She loved him deeply, with all her heart, but what was she going to do? Hurry up and wait?

When Quinn met Ron, he was still married to his second wife. Worse, he had a murder charge hanging over his head. Quinn was convinced he wasn't guilty, but Ron was convicted in August 1994 and sent to the Menard Correctional Center in downstate Chester to serve a 35-year sentence. She continued to wear his engagement ring and jumped over the wedding ring straight to the suffering.

Ron was found guilty of murdering his infant son, Paul, and then donating Paul's organs to cover up the crime. (I wrote about the case for the Reader in the summer of 1995.) Paul had died while in Ron's care in early December 1991, an apparent victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Paul's heart ended up saving the life of Quinn Kyles, commonly known as Baby Quinn, who was born with a defective heart and desperately needed a transplant. Baby Quinn had been the subject of much media attention. After they donated Paul's heart, Ron and his second wife, Angela, Paul's mother, were interviewed on Channel Five.

Paul's doctor, Aaron Zucker, was suspicious. The head of the intensive care unit at Wyler's Children's Hospital, he didn't think Ron was grieving. He called a hospital lawyer, who notified the police.

An autopsy showed no signs of foul play, and the medical examiner signed off on SIDS as the cause of death. An investigation by the Department of Children and Family Services backed up Ron's account, but the police then interviewed witnesses who thought Ron had something to hide. In addition to Zucker, there was another doctor--a pediatrician who also didn't like the way Ron acted; she had seen him laughing while doing laundry at a laundromat. Ron's first wife, Vivinia, didn't like Ron period; she told police he had abused one of their children. In April 1992 Ron was brought to the police station, where detectives interrogated him for a few hours and then turned him over to an assistant state's attorney to take a statement.

The assistant state's attorney wrote Ron's statement--as is the custom in Cook County--and Ron initialed each page. Later he claimed he hadn't read those pages, which had him confessing to the murder. Paul wouldn't stop crying, the statement said, and Ron "became angry and decided to stop Paul's crying and the only way he could do it was to stop his breathing." The statement said Ron "placed Paul's face down on the pillow" and walked away. Ron swore he never said what the state's attorney had written. He did feel guilty for his son's death, he explained, because Paul had been to the doctor for breathing problems caused by apnea--a fairly normal condition in babies with low birth weight. (Paul had weighed just four pounds four ounces at birth.) Ron admitted he should have hooked the baby up to a device that would monitor his breathing before putting him down for a nap. He felt guilty because he was taking care of the baby and the baby died. Maybe he could have done something, he cried, but he didn't do that--he didn't murder the boy.

But it was too late. The statement had already been written. Only three men--the assistant state's attorney, a police detective, and Ron--knew what had actually been said, and neither the statement's writer nor its witness would budge. The statement didn't ring true to Quinn McGuire. Ron had told her about it, she said, and "it didn't seem likely."

Baby Quinn was alive and well, with Paul's heart beating in his growing body, when Ron went to trial in August 1994. Quinn McGuire sat in the courtroom. She watched the police detective admit that he didn't take notes when Ron was interviewed. She watched Dr. Zucker explain that his suspicions were first raised because Ron was talking about organ donation from the moment he'd entered the hospital; later she learned Zucker hadn't met Ron until three days after Paul was admitted. She watched Ron's first wife break down and cry on the stand. Vivinia told the jury she knew Ron had abused their son even though the doctor who'd examined the child after an accident hadn't reported or suspected abuse. Quinn watched the prosecutor tell the jury about Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, a psychological disorder in which a person will harm others in order to get attention. But though Paul had been to a doctor several times, it was Angela, not Ron, who had always taken him in. Quinn watched as the judge refused to instruct the jury on a charge of manslaughter. If the jurors thought Ron was even a little guilty, he could only be convicted of murder. She watched the jury return a guilty verdict.

Her heart seemed to stop beating. She sat frozen in her seat. They took Ron away, and sometime later, Quinn didn't know how long, his lawyer, Joseph Cavanaugh, directed her and Ron's parents to join him in the hallway. "If he hadn't done that, I'd still be sitting there," she says. "I was like a puppet."

After the story appeared in the Reader, attorney Lawrence Marshall of the Northwestern Legal Clinic became involved. He appealed the decision, and in March 1997 the appellate court granted a new trial on one point: the original court had erred in not allowing the jury to hear the manslaughter instruction. Quinn got a phone call from Ron. "I don't want you to be shocked," he told her, "but you'll be seeing me very soon." She had made the 300-mile trip to Menard three times. She'd believe him when she saw him free.

Ron was moved to Cook County Jail, where his bail was raised from $75,000 to $400,000. He spent the summer there while Marshall asked for bail reduction. Quinn saw Ron a few times, but only behind a sheet of glass.

Ron was released last year on October 7, his 31st birthday, pending a new trial. He again asked Quinn to marry him, and she considered it carefully. The government prosecutors would never give up. The assistant state's attorney who'd written the statement was now a judge. If the statement didn't stand, what would that say about the system? It didn't matter if the same system of writing suspects' statements was now under attack, due largely to the discredited confessions elicited from the two young boys in the notorious Ryan Harris murder. There was no case against Ron without the statement. "I have faith in God," Quinn told him, "not man." But she also knew that, like the Almighty, the courts in Cook County work in mysterious ways.

Ron explained that he'd thought it all through. He'd plead guilty to a lesser charge--aggravated assault against a child--and get his sentence cut in half. With good behavior and credit for the three and a half years he had already served, he figured he'd be in prison for another five. He was only 32--he'd still be a young man when he got out. She'd seen the first trial; did she think he should take another chance? He could wind up getting an even stiffer sentence.

Eventually, a new court date was set for this fall--Thursday, October 18--but there was still one thing on Ron's mind.

They'd been together--and apart--for almost five years. Quinn tried to consider his question objectively. "If this were a movie," she asked herself, "would I be rooting for Ron to get the girl? Should he get the girl?" She thought about the Bible study group she'd joined while he was in Menard; when he was released, she'd thought, "Well, maybe it's working." She thought about her daily trips to the post office. She riffled through his letters; they were kept in a file, like sheets of gold. She remembered the agony when he was first led away. She could now answer truthfully: "Yes, I would root for him to get the girl."

On Friday, October 12, Quinn's uncle died. His funeral was scheduled for the following day, and he would be buried on Monday, October 15. "If I died," Quinn asked Ron, "would you come to my funeral?" No, he answered. "What!" she shrieked. He couldn't, he explained--the state wouldn't let him. She wasn't a relative. In the eyes of the state, she was nothing to him. Quinn called her mother.

He wouldn't be able to come to my funeral, she complained. "What am I going to do?"

"You'll be dead," her mother answered. "What do you care?"

Quinn thought about that long and hard. "He's asked me umpteen times, and I've been single for a long time. Where have I been all this time? Where was I all the time he was in Menard? I was right here. When he comes out, where will I be?"

On Sunday she finally said yes. They planned the wedding on Monday morning while sitting in the limousine on the way to bury her uncle. Ron wanted a location that would be convenient for his parents and decided on Evanston. That was OK with Quinn. The pastor they wanted was at the cemetery. Her whole family was there as well. Could they make it to Evanston by 7:30 tonight? Her sister, her aunt, and her mother said they could. Her father, still recovering from a stroke, said no. Quinn offered to pick him up on the south side, but he still said no. She cried.

"Pull yourself together," her mother snapped. "You know how he is."

As soon as she returned to her apartment, Quinn began calling friends. Ron booked a room at the Holiday Inn and went out to rent a tux. Quinn ransacked her closet--where is that dress? Why can't I find my panty hose? I know I just bought three pairs. What's taking him so long? It can't take this long to rent a tux. Where is that dress? Why didn't we do this two weeks ago?

She found the dress and promptly lost a button.

The bride wore black, as did the groom. Quinn's nephews--Patrick, 8, and Donny, 10--circulated among the grown-ups. Smiling angelically, Patrick took care of the introductions between friends and family. Suddenly Quinn noticed that she wasn't wearing her engagement ring. She panicked. Where was it? She'd get a new ring soon, Ron assured her.

The pastor, Reverend Jackson, was a picture of rectitude and built like a fullback. He positioned Ron and Quinn in a corner of the hotel room and beckoned the wedding guests, several of whom were sitting on the nuptial bed. After starting the ceremony with "We are here in the sight of Jehovah God," Reverend Jackson commented that some people might talk against this marriage. "But what is joined in the eyes of Jehovah God, let no one put asunder," he warned. Turning his piercing eyes on the guests, he repeated this warning. Once he was certain that no one would try--not now, for sure, because if Jehovah God didn't get them, he would--Reverend Jackson continued.

He asked them "to share all worldly possessions," and both the bride and groom laughed. "Yeah," Ron said, "we'll break a penny in half." They were finally married. Donny turned on some music for the first dance. The introductory bars floated from the tape deck, and Ron and Quinn took the floor, holding each other tight as they danced to "I Believe I Can Fly." That Thursday Ron would plead guilty and be sentenced to 17 years. But for now the courtroom was miles away, jail even farther. When Quinn took Ron's hand, she never wanted to let it go. This moment, she knew, was good. All her anguish was gone. This was where she was supposed to be. Right now, good-bye was only a word. Right now, love was forever, never to be put asunder.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Quin McGuire, Ron Rakow uncredited photo.

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