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Serial Rapist Paroled Amid Death Threats

March 18, 1994|JENIFER WARREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A notorious serial rapist who confessed to attacking more than 100 women was paroled Thursday in the tiny Modoc County town of Alturas, where residents promptly threatened to kill him and a judge issued an order seeking to banish him from the region.

State corrections officials said Melvin A. Carter, whose parole has sparked an outcry because he served only half of his 25-year sentence, arrived about noon at a prison work camp just outside Alturas, an outpost of 3,200 people in California's northeastern corner. He will live at the compound under close supervision, leaving only when accompanied by a parole agent, officials said.

Carter, 49, was initially scheduled to be released in Alameda County, where he committed many of his crimes. But public fury and political pressure prompted Gov. Pete Wilson to abruptly change that decision and order him set free in "as remote a location as possible."

On Thursday, Carter's new neighbors rebelled. Rallying at the Modoc County courthouse, more than 1,500 angry people waved hand-lettered signs and said that paroling the rapist in Alturas would forever alter life in a town where nobody locks the front door.

"The governor obviously believes women in the country don't count as much as women in the city," said hairstylist Cherrie Crites. "It's an outrage. . . . Instead of being laid back and feeling secure, we've now got to look over our shoulder and feel paranoid."

While some residents worried, others threatened to kill Carter if he shows his face in town. Police Chief Larry Pickett, who oversees a force of seven officers, said, "Every other fellow I run into tells me he'll blow this guy away. Lots of people have guns around here. There's no way we can protect him."

Dist. Atty. Ruth Sorensen, meanwhile, tried other means to keep Carter out of Alturas, obtaining a court order that seeks to block the state from housing him there. Sorensen argued that the state violated its own rules, which require parolees go to the county where they were convicted unless special circumstances exist.

"We will do whatever necessary to keep Melvin Carter out of Modoc County," said Sorensen, who rousted Superior Court Judge Guy Martin Young from the shower to obtain the court order first thing Thursday morning. "We refuse to be a dumping ground for another county's hazardous waste."

Corrections officials said their attorneys were studying the order Thursday and had not determined its impact. A hearing was set for April 1 in Alturas, and until then Carter is likely to remain at the Devil's Garden Conservation Camp, seven miles outside of town.

Each month, the state's prisons release 250 rapists, child molesters and other sex offenders, whose time behind bars averages less than 3 1/2 years--41.6 months. Despite such numbers, the parole of Carter and the near-release of another serial rapist, Christopher Evans Hubbart, have stirred uproars at opposite ends of California this week.

On Wednesday, residents of Claremont protested after learning that Hubbart, believed to be responsible for 50 rapes over 22 years, was to be released there. After failing a psychiatric exam, Hubbart was returned to the state prison in Chino, where he will probably remain another year.

Carter, a former engineer, confessed to raping more than 100 women over a dozen years, beginning when he moved to California from Colorado in 1968. He told police that he targeted neighborhoods near college campuses and searched for women who lived alone.

Wearing a jumpsuit and surgical gloves, Carter struck at night, typically cutting phone and power lines before raping his victims with a knife at their throats. He was dubbed the College Terrace rapist and committed most of his known crimes in the Bay Area.

In 1982, Carter was convicted of 12 rapes and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He is eligible for release now because laws in effect when he was convicted allowed him to reduce his sentence by working and behaving himself. By contrast, the new "three strikes and you're out" law sharply restricts some inmates' ability to cut their sentences with so-called "good time" credits.

News of Carter's pending release surfaced last week. Hayward, an East Bay Area city, was rumored to be the state's parole destination of choice, and residents there quickly staged demonstrations and flooded the governor's office with phone calls and faxes.

"Locating him in a community that so closely resembles his 'old hunting grounds' is irresponsible at the least and blatantly reckless at worst," Mayor Michael Sweeney wrote in a letter to Wilson, noting that Hayward is home to two colleges.

As the ruckus mushroomed, it caught the eye of state Treasurer Kathleen Brown, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. Brown declared that missteps by Wilson's Department of Corrections had allowed the rapist to go free two years early and charged that the governor was all talk and no action on crime.

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