Ex-con may be extradited for 1963 murder
When retired California Highway Patrol officer Bill Ruppert attended a dedication last year at the Truckee patrol station to the late officer Glenn W. Carlson, who was killed 37 years ago, he was unaware that one of the men arrested for Carlson’s murder was released from prison before completing his term.
Robert Burns and two other men received life in prison following the 1963 shooting that left Carlson to die on a snowy roadside near Donner Lake. It was later determined that it was Roger Mealman who fired the fatal shots.
Burns, who is now a 70-year-old Oregon resident suffering from cancer and heart problems, served five years in California before being transferred to Oregon to serve a four-year parole violation sentence. He was supposed to return to California to complete the remainder of his murder sentence.
But after completing his four years of service in Oregon in 1974, Oregon prison authorities claimed Burns was fully rehabilitated and then-Gov. Robert Straub, who noted Burns entered prison with a fourth-grade education but ended up taking 31 graduate courses, refused to send him back to California.
In the past 27 years, Burns has started his own painting business, gotten married and raised five children.
Since then, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminated governors’ rights to grant sanctuary. When Burns’ name came up on a computer as not having completed his California sentence, FBI agents arrested him on Jan. 4 in Springfield, Ore.
He is being held in an Oregon county jail pending an extradition hearing.
“It was surprising news to me,” Ruppert said, adding he had no idea Burns had been living the law of the land for the past 27 years.
“I still think he needs to come back and serve his time. I know a lot of people wouldn’t agree with me on that. It’s been a long time, there’s a lot of emotions involved. But I think justice is justice.”
According to Associated Press reports, Burns’ family has publicly denounced the hunt as cruel, given his health and crime-free life out of prison.
California authorities have attempted to arrest him while he was out of Oregon working in other states but were unsuccessful.
“We have always wanted him back,” said California Department of Corrections spokesperson Terry Thornton. “Our point of view is he is still a fugitive from justice. He received a life term for the murder of a California Highway Patrol officer.”
The Nov. 16, 1963 shooting occurred after Officer Carlson stopped a vehicle for excessive speed in Truckee. Minutes after issuing a speeding ticket, Carlson was advised by radio that the vehicle was missing from a used car lot in Sacramento. He pursued the vehicle and stopped it a second time near Loch Leven Lodge. Three suspects exited the vehicle and walked toward Officer Carlson. As he ordered the men back to their vehicle, one fired shots at him, leaving him fatally wounded.
The manhunt that ensued involved virtually every lawman in the area. The three suspects were apprehended and charged with Carlson’s death. Officers later learned that the men had committed a bank robbery at the Northgate branch of Bank of America in the Sacramento area and were headed to Reno for a flight to Mexico.
Ruppert, a Truckee CHP officer for 22 years, joined the force two months after Carlson’s death, and got to know his family real well.
Carlson left behind a wife and three young children. His son, Eric Carlson, owns Carlson Trucking in Truckee.
“The incident was discussed during officer training at the CHP academy,” Ruppert said. “Our training sergeant was involved in the capture of the three men and the investigation. He had some in-depth points of view. Anytime a tragedy like that takes place, the CHP has been good about changing their training.”
The Highway 267 bypass will be named after Officer Carlson when construction is completed.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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