Prosecutor in notorious Butler County murder case, passionate historian dies at 85

Former Butler County attorney and historian, Jim Irwin, describes the new timeline mural of all the Butler County Common Pleas Judges since Ohio became a state, unveiled in the rotunda of the Butler County Government Services Center, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. Staff photo by Greg Lynch
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Former Butler County attorney and historian, Jim Irwin, describes the new timeline mural of all the Butler County Common Pleas Judges since Ohio became a state, unveiled in the rotunda of the Butler County Government Services Center, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011. Staff photo by Greg Lynch

Butler County historian and former attorney Jim Irwin was a “brilliant” and “eloquent” lawyer, and always “spoke with a purpose,” said the county’s top attorney.

Irwin died Saturday morning in his Fairfield home after a lengthy illness, according to his children. He was 85.

“It was an honor to know him,” said Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser. “He was a gentleman and a lawyer’s lawyer. He was sensible and a was a good mentor for young lawyers coming up.

 

“He set an excellent example, not only for courtroom ability but personal and professional ethics.”

Irwin joined the Millikin and Fitton Law Firm in 1964, where he mentored young attorneys, such as John Clemmons, who called him “an excellent mentor.”

Many of Irwin’s cases were civil, but he was asked to be a special prosecutor in 1975 by then-Butler County Prosecutor John Holcomb in the James Ruppert murder trial. Ruppert was convicted of killing 11 members of his family on Easter in 1975.

"He was a multi-talented guy," Clemmons said. "He was a leading civil lawyer, but he also had enough breadth to himself to take on the James Ruppert criminal case."

He also sat in as a visiting judge in Fairfield Municipal Court.

 

Irwin was born on Dec. 22, 1933 at Mercy Hamilton. After graduating from Hamilton High School in 1951, he went on to Notre Dame and joined the Air Force after graduation in 1955.

He was stationed in Houston, Texas for three years, but in the first month met his wife, Patricia. They married on Sept. 1, 1958, in Galveston, Texas.

After Irwin’s time in the Air Force, he and his wife moved back to Ohio where he went to law school at the University of Cincinnati.

“He was the one to say to me that a law license is a license to serve, not a license to make money,” Clemmons said.

Clemmons also called Irwin “a great historian,” saying he had “a great memory and a great mind” for history, especially Butler County, Hamilton and Fairfield local history.

Irwin is survived by his wife, Patricia, his four children — Greg Irwin of Hamilton, Laura Weinberger of Fairfield, Mary Pasquinelli of Chicago and Emily Crawford of Cincinnati — and six grandchildren.

A visitation is set for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Parish, 400 Nilles Road, and a funeral mass set for 11:30 a.m.