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"San Francisco witch killers" eligible for parole

SAN FRANCISCO - The married couple dubbed the "San Francisco witch killers" seemed locked away for good when each was sentenced to 75 years to life for three Northern California murders three decades ago.

But because of a recent federal court ruling, prison officials had to consider them for parole. A parole board at a women's prison in Chino, California, is scheduled to consider Wednesday whether Suzan Carson, 73, is suitable for release.

Carson's lawyer Laura Sheppard says her client "doesn't seem interested in attempting to seek parole" and hasn't helped prepare for the hearing, further diminishing her long-shot odds of winning freedom. Carson's husband this summer canceled his hearing, telling prison officials that he won't renounce the religious beliefs the couple say motivated them to kill.

Nonetheless, the killers' chance at freedom has upset the families of their victims, who say the self-described vegetarian Muslim "warriors" have never expressed remorse or abandoned beliefs that they were on a "holy war against witches" during their rampage.

Carson and her second husband, Michael "Bear" Carson, were convicted of killing three people during a drug-fueled quest to rid the world of witches between 1981 and 1983.

"Witchcraft, homosexuality and abortion are causes for death," said a bearded, long-haired Michael Carson during a 1983 press conference arranged by investigators with San Francisco media that lasted five hours.

Authorities allowed the jailhouse interview in exchange for incriminating information about the three murders. With his wife smiling by his side, Carson described her as "a yogi and a mystic with knowledge of past, present and future events." The couple described themselves as Muslim.

Suzan Carson told reporters she ordered her husband to kill Karen Barnes in her San Francisco apartment in 1981 because she falsely converted to their religion and was "draining" Suzan of her health and "yogic powers." The couple killed twice more in California before they were captured in 1983.

Barnes' sister, Lisa Long, traveled from her home near Atlanta to California to testify Wednesday against Suzan's release.

"They are unrepentant," Long said.

Michael Carson acknowledged he still harbored his religious beliefs when he canceled his June 30 parole hearing.

"I know this is absurd," Michael Carson wrote from Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, California, on a form canceling his hearing. "No one is going to parole me because I will not and have not renounced my beliefs."

He can try again in 2020, prison officials said.

The Carsons received parole consideration because a federal court concerned with prison overcrowding ordered hearings last year for about 1,400 inmates older than 60 who have served more than 25 years of their sentences. Most of those qualifying for consideration are being turned down for parole, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Since February 2014, 267 elderly inmates have been granted parole and 729 have been denied, according to the department. An additional 450 hearings have been canceled or postponed.

Despite the odds against the couple's release, Michael Carson's daughter also formally opposes her father's release.

"They are still dangerous," Jennifer Carson said.

She said her college-educated father was a stay-at-home dad caring for her in 1970s suburban Phoenix while her mother supported the family by teaching.

"I remember those times as very happy times," Jennifer Carson said. "But then his behavior began to change."

She said her father changed dramatically after he met Suzan Carson at a party. The couple soon divorced their respective spouses and married each other.

Jennifer Carson said her father and Suzan Carson were heavy drug users who created their own moral and religious code.

"It was like a match meeting dynamite," she said of the day the couple met.

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