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Man who killed 5-year-old son to be released after 28 years in prison

Judy Kirby holds photograph her sJasher Burns Harbor Ind. home Thursday June 21 2012.  The picture was taken about

Judy Kirby holds a photograph of her son Jason in her Burns Harbor, Ind. home Thursday June 21, 2012. The picture was taken about two weeks before he was killed in 1983. Jason was five years old. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 22, 2012 5:28PM

Judy Kirby has been dreading this day for nearly 30 years.

Since her youngest son, Jason, was shot and killed on Dec. 10, 1983. Since his body was found several hours later on an isolated, private drive in another town. Since a 60-year prison sentence was handed down to Jason’s killer — his own father.

Richard Kirby was charged with killing his 5-year-old son by shooting him in the back at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. Richard was arrested at his son’s funeral. A jury later found him guilty even though he pleaded innocent then and, mostly likely, still would today.

“I can’t imagine a more heinous crime, murdering your own child, a precious 5-year-old boy,” said Judy, a former resident of Portage, Ind. who now lives in Burns Harbor. “A child killer will soon be a free man and I have never been so frightened.”

Richard, who’s now 65, was first imprisoned at Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, then at Miami Correctional Facility, two hours southeast of Northwest Indiana. His initial expected release date was December 2013. But he shaved off about 1-1/2 years for multiple reasons.

“In addition to earned credit time (of) 30 years, he received six months for a U.S. Department of Labor Vocational Program, and one year for an associate degree in general arts,” according to Amy Lanum, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Correction.

Richard, however, lost 60 days of earned credit time for disciplinary action while incarcerated, but later had 30 of those days restored for good behavior, Lanum noted.

The bottom line is this: Richard, who got married again while in prison, will be released Monday. His ex-wife, Jason’s mother, is livid.

“This caught me totally off guard. It caught my family off guard, too, including my oldest son,” Judy said, referring to Jason’s older brother, Rich, who’s now 39.

Richard mailed his oldest son several letters and cards from prison through the years, and Judy saved them to give her son when he turned 18.

“He threw them all in the trash without opening them,” Judy said. “He wants nothing to do with his father.”

On the day he was killed, around 4 p.m., Richard told a friend of Judy’s that he dropped off Jason with his friends near his estranged wife’s home. The couple were separated at the time.

Jason never showed up at her home and his body was discovered by teenagers around 11 p.m. that night. They rushed him to a hospital but he was dead.

“When they rolled over his body, the buckshot dropped out,” recalled Judy, who visited his gravesite at McCool Cemetery in Portage daily after his funeral. “It was the only place where I could connect with my baby boy.”

She still visits his grave often to reflect on his young life, tragic death and what could have been.

Through the years, Judy missed so many things because Jason was taken away from her — his high school graduation, his first girlfriend, his college years, his wedding, his grandkids for her, to name a few.

The only reason she kept Richard’s last name was for her sons, and to stay connected to Jason, in name as well as through memories.

Today, with Richard’s release imminent, a no-contact order is in the works to protect her and her family. If Richard violates it, and his probation, he will return to prison, Judy is told.

“I just want to make sure he leaves us alone,” she said. “I know that my ex-husband has rights, but Jason will never have any.”

Richard declined a request for an interview.

Even now, nearly 30 years later, Judy simply can’t comprehend why her ex-husband would kill his own son.

She once believed it was done as a way to compel her to need Richard again, in some sick, twisted way. Or possibly to get back at her for asking for a divorce, which took place anyway in July 1984.

“In my heart, I’ll go to my grave asking myself why? Why his own son?” the 59-year-old woman asks herself.

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