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Couple’s Third Conviction Upheld

November 1, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A state appeals court upheld the final murder conviction of a couple who said their three victims were witches who had to be killed.

Michael and Suzan Carson described themselves in a 1983 jailhouse interview as ″religious warriors involved in a holy war against witches.″

Police said they confessed at that time to the three killings, in San Francisco, Humboldt and Sonoma counties, between 1981 and 1983. In each case they were convicted and sentenced to at least 25 years to life in prison.

The 1st District Court of Appeal, which had upheld the Carsons’ two other convictions, on Tuesday affirmed 3-0 the third conviction in the May 1982 shooting death of Clark Stephens near the Humboldt County community of Garberville.

Police quoted the Carsons as describing Stephens as a ″petty witch″ and a ″demon″ who ″wanted to live off (Suzan’s) life.″

Officers said Michael Carson also accused Stephens of a sexual attack against Suzan; they quoted Michael as saying he had to kill Stephens under an Islamic command, as he viewed it, to defend his wife.

Michael shot Stephens, and Suzan, who was present at the killing, helped drag the body to a gravesite and burn it, the court said.

The appeals court rejected the Carsons’ claims that their confession had been coerced, saying the same arguments had been resolved in the previous two cases and could not be reopened.

The court also rejected Suzan Carson’s argument that a portion of her husband’s confession had been used improperly against her.

In that portion, Michael said their attacks ″have really been ordered by Suzan ...″ Suzan then interrupted and said, ″By Allah.″ Michael continued, ″Right, I mean ... but, by Suzan’s voice to me.″

Justice Donald King said the evidence did not violate legal rules that limit use of out-of-court confessions by one person implicating another.

″Suzan, by adding the explanation that Allah had given orders through her, thereby adopted Michael’s confession and made it her own,″ King said.

The Carsons were also convicted of the 1981 murder of Keryn Barnes, who lived with them in San Francisco, and the 1983 murder of Jon Hellyar, who had picked them up hitchhiking and taken them to Sonoma County.

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