COALINGA - A state parole board this week declined to release murderer Steven John Burns, who has served 31 years in state prison for shooting a woman at University of the Pacific because she rejected his love.
Burns, 49, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to spend 17 years to life in prison for killing Catina Rose Salarno on Sept. 3, 1979. In Tuesday's hearing - his eighth chance at parole - Burns said he wanted to go home to care for his elderly parents.
Opposing his release, Salarno's two sisters and parents traveled to Pleasant Valley State Prison, a remote Central Valley institution surrounded by scrub brush. They sat in a cramped room, listening to him plead with officials to let him live again in his boyhood home in San Francisco.
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The two-person board commended Burns for his accomplishments in prison. He has earned a bachelor's degree in business administration and two associate degrees in addition to working in a prison hospice and a bakery and undergoing years of therapy.
But they also said his insight into his psychological issues - obsessive compulsive personality disorder - were superficial. He remains a danger, and they ruled that he won't be eligible for another parole hearing for seven more years.
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Burns and Catina Salarno dated for three years, but she began to break it off in the summer of 1979 before leaving to begin college at Pacific, where she planned to study dentistry. Unknown to Salarno, Burns also had enrolled at the university.
On the eve of the first day of classes, Burns asked Salarno to meet him. He shot her execution-style behind Long Theatre and left her to die while he returned to his dorm room to watch "Monday Night Football." They were both 18.
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After her daughter's death, Harriet Salarno launched Crime Victims United of California, a politically connected organization that lobbies for strict criminal laws.
Nina Salarno Ashford, Catina's younger sister and now an attorney, stood during the hearing to deliver a fiery statement. She said her family continues to fear that Burns' controlling tendencies would lead him back to their doors if granted freedom.
"If you release him, God help you, because the blood he shed is on your hands," she told the parole board.
A sentence of life with parole for the murderer is a sentence to life opposing parole for the victim's family.