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Slain woman's family: Change death certificate

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Nearly 30 years after she died, a River Falls woman's death certificate may be changed to identify cause of death as "homicide" rather than "accident."

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At the request of her family, Judge Robert Wing signed an order Nov. 13 adding the word "intentional" to a description of the 410-gauge shotgun discharge that took the life of Lila Margaret Clay, 28. The order to amend has been sent to the state Bureau of Vital Statistics.

Lila Clay died Jan. 16, 1980, in her home at 309 N. Grove St., River Falls.

Two years later her husband, Ronald John Clay, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He claimed the gun fired accidently. The prosecution alleged Ronald Clay shot his wife for insurance money.

The request to change the death certificate was made by Lila's daughter, Rhonda Jane Jensen, Ellsworth.

Ronald Clay, an inmate at Oakhill Correctional Institution, paid the $164 fee to amend the death certificate.

Jensen said it wasn't until 25 years after her death that Ronald Clay admitted to killing his wife.

"The last five years have been easier," said Jensen, who was five when her mother died. Her brother was three.

Still the official record indicated Lila Clay's death was accidental.

"It never occurred to me that it was incorrect until three or four years ago," said Jensen.

While she wanted the certificate changed, the process isn't easy nor is it free, said Jensen.

She had to collect substantiating evidence. Then there was the filing fee.

Jensen remembers thinking, "You know what, it's not fair that I should have to pay for it."

During a parole hearing, she asked that her father pay the fee. He refused. But this past summer, she asked again and he agreed.

Jensen, who was raised by her mother's parents, said she has not kept in touch with her father.

"He wrote letters for years, and we started sending them back 'return to sender,' so he stopped," said Jensen.

She said that since she turned 18, she has attended every one of Ron Clay's parole hearings, usually by teleconference, to ask that he not be released from prison.

In earlier years, more relatives participated in the hearings, but now attendance is limited to immediate family members, said Jensen.

Those include Lila Clay's parents, Max and Betty Merriman; her son, Aaron Clay; and her only sister, Gwen Paulson of Hudson.

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