Courts still deciding fate of man convicted for 38-year-old murder |

Courts still deciding fate of man convicted for 38-year-old murder

Amanda Butler

It looked like an Oregon man convicted of killing a highway patrol officer in Truckee 38 years ago would finally be extradited to California to serve the remainder of his life sentence, until an emergency stay was granted April 20 by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Robert Lee Burns, now 70, was convicted of murdering California Highway Patrol Officer Glenn Carlson after a traffic stop near Donner Lake turned deadly in 1963. Although it was determined that Burns had not been the shooter, he and the two other men involved in the shooting who had been fleeing after a stealing a car in Sacramento, were all sentenced to life in prison.

But Burns served only five years in a California prison before he was transferred to an Oregon facility to serve four years for an unrelated parole violation.

He was supposed to return to California to finish his life sentence when then-Oregon Gov. Robert Straub granted him sanctuary and refused to send him back to California, noting that Burns had been rehabilitated and had turned his life around.

Since then, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling abolished a governor’s right to grant sanctuary.

In January, Burns’ name came up on a FBI computer-generated list of people who had not finished their sentences and officers moved in to arrest him.

Earlier this year California Department of Corrections spokesperson Terry Thorton commented, “We have always wanted him back. 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.”

But finishing that term may or may not happen until California and Oregon can resolve Burns’ status.

In an extradition hearing held April 18, David Phillips, Burns’ attorney, argued that Burns cannot be sent back to California because the state failed to follow through on extradition attempts in 1982 and 1983.

He also argued that sending Burns back to California could mean a death sentence for the ailing man, who has been diagnosed with cancer and heart disease.

Although Lane County Circuit Judge Bryan P. Hodges commended Burns for the upstanding life he led while he was free, he ordered him to return to California and complete his sentence.

But late Friday afternoon, Phillips got an emergency stay.

Burns was less than 20 miles from the California border when Oregon state police caught up to him and returned him to the Jackson County Jail in Medford.

Burns will now remain in Oregon until an appeals court hears his case.

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