SACRAMENTO, CA – Parole officials decided to reject the release of a murderer whose crime sparked a grieving mother to create one of California’s best-known groups advocating for the rights of crime victims.
Harriet Salarno started Crime Victims United of California in response to the fatal shooting of her 18-year-old daughter by her ex-boyfriend on her first day attending college in Stockton at the University of the Pacific in 1979.
California’s parole panel rejected a plea by Steven Burns, 55 to be released and instead chose to keep him locked up in Chowchilla’s Valley State Prison for murdering Catina Rose Salarno. The panel also informed Burns that he will have another parole hearing in five years.
“We’re very relieved and pleased that the parole board decided to keep him in prison and not release him,” said Nina Salarno, sister of the victim.
She was adamant that Burns still poses a risk to the public almost four decades after he murdered Catina. Although he has admitted shooting her sister, he has denied stealing the gun and denied he stalked her sister before killing her.
“He won’t admit that he left her to die and everything else he did both before and after the murder,” she said. “No one can be rehabilitated until they admit to and accept full responsibility for all the crimes they committed.”
Salarno said they as a family started the victims’ organization due to the frustration they felt from the criminal justice system.
“It soon became apparent to us that our system of justice was extremely lopsided, so we formed Crime Victims United to bring some balance to our legal system,” claimed Salarno, who went on to become a prosecutor and is now president of Crime Victims United. “Victims deserve a level playing field.”
Crime Victims United is closely affiliated with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the union representing most of the state’s prison guards. Together these organizations have made their voices heard in Sacramento advocating for victims’ rights and tougher penalties for criminals.
Harriett Salarno was co-chairwoman of the Crime Victims Bill of Rights, a successful ballot initiative in 1982. She also campaigned to pass Marsy’s Law, a 2008 initiative that made victims’ rights part of California’s constitution.
Catina Salarno and Steven Burns were San Francisco neighbors, dating before she broke it off before leaving for college. He used a gun he stole from the Salarno’s business to kill her, shooting her in the head after they argued on campus grounds, according to testimony in the trial.
Nina Salerno will never forget the trauma she felt when testifying at the trial as a 12-year-old. She went on to become a deputy district attorney before starting a private practice. In 1999 she was appointed by then Attorney General Bill Lockyer to be director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims’ Services for the state.
“When my sister was murdered, my family was thrown into a justice system that simply casts victims aside,” she said when interviewed before the hearing.