Not Guilty, But Not Off the Hook
Thursday, February 02, 2006
By John Agar
The Grand Rapids Press
GRAND RAPIDS -- After 13 years in prison, Larry Souter found out freedom isn't free: He owes $38,000 in back child support.
Never mind that the debt accumulated while he was locked up, wrongly convicted of murder.
Souter, 53, was ordered to court Wednesday to explain why he shouldn't be held in contempt. If the hearing had not been postponed, his answer was simple: He was in prison before his second-degree murder conviction was overturned late last year. Prison wages barely covered necessities.
Souter didn't want to talk, but the courthouse certainly was on his list of least favorite places to visit.
He was convicted in 1992 for the 1979 death of Kristi Ringler, 19, near White Cloud. Attorneys later found evidence that could have helped him at trial, reports suggesting the victim was hit by a motor home's mirror. Medical examiners also backed off conclusions that Ringler was killed by a whiskey bottle.
A Newaygo County judge vacated Souter's guilty verdict.
In 1987, Souter was ordered to pay $100 a week in his divorce with Christine Souter. He stopped paying when he went to prison in 1992, but didn't ask to have payments suspended until 1995.
Court documents show that in 1997, he owed $23,000 in back support. As of last month, interest and penalties had pushed it to $38,082.25.
Federal law prohibits judges from retroactively wiping out such debts, Souter's attorney, John Smietanka, said.
He hoped they could reach an agreement with his ex-wife.
"He can't even find a job, let alone find this kind of payment," Smietanka said. "Larry wants to (pay), he definitely wants to deal with this in a fair way."
His ex-wife's attorney, David Sarnacki, wrote in court records that she "has endured the substantial burden of raising her two children without defendant's contribution of child support."