On April 18, 1974 my older brother, Frank Carlson, was murdered in a brutal home invasion on Potrero Hill in San Francisco.
On April 15, I will appear before the California State Parole Board to provide a victims’ impact statement asking the Board to not grant my brothers’ killer his freedom. The Parole Board has the leeway to extend the killer’s sentence for up to 15 years. I will ask the Board to impose that term.
My brothers’ killing was not the worst murder to have ever occurred in San Francisco. That notoriety would probably have to go to The Zebra, The Zodiac or Dan White. But for scholars of San Francisco crime, it’s definitely in the top 20. This one has it all. By the time the killer, Angelo Pavageau, left the home that my 25-year-old brother and his wife shared, the young couple had been subjected to breaking and entering, assault, torture, murder in the first degree, rape, grand theft, arson and cruelty to animals. When the criminal was convicted, he was sentenced to death, plus 54 years for ancillary crimes. My sister-in-law survived despite the grave wounds she suffered, both physical and psychological. My brother died at the hands of a crazed intruder who beat him to death while he tried to defend himself and his wife. The details of the crime are still difficult for me to recount without emotional consequences. There is a website I created, justiceforfrank.org that tells the story of this horrible event.
46 years later, this crime still preoccupies me, my family and my friends.
When it happened, as a 16-year-old, I knew even then that the death sentence would not be carried out. California has a complex relationship with the death penalty, and by 1976 Pavageau’s sentence was commuted when the death penalty was abolished. He was re-sentenced to the next most severe term, life in prison with the possibility of parole. By 1980, annual parole hearings became a fact of life for my family. When the death penalty was reinstated in 1978, Pavageau’s sentence was not upgraded to the original term. Instead, we began a fight to keep this man in prison.
April 2020 will make the 14th time that we have had to appear in front of the Parole Board to remind them of the gravity of the crimes committed that night in 1974.
Thankfully, murder is not a frequent occurrence. Murder committed by a random stranger is an even more infrequent occurrence. But when it happens, the collateral damage to the victim’s family and friends is significant.
My parents used this crime and the subsequent parole hearings as a platform for activism. Thanks to their efforts and the efforts of other people in similar circumstances the laws have gradually changed. Annual parole hearings became bi-annual by the late 1980s. In later years we fought for changes to provide greater latitude to extend sentences when appropriate. By 2008 Marsy’s Law provided additional ways victims could ensure their rights were given as much consideration as the criminal’s rights.
These changes have been necessary. For people like us, they are appreciated. But they don’t make the actual hearings any less painful. Only potentially less frequent.
For anyone who has not attended a parole hearing, they are stressful, emotionally draining and a painful walk down memory lane. Victims are forced to confront, in person, the individuals who perpetrated the crimes. The actual event is recounted, sometimes with photos from the scene. For many years, my parents would not allow me to participate in hearings. As they have now passed this upcoming hearing will be the first time I will appear to speak as my brother’s advocate. While this event is nothing anyone would ever look forward to, I embrace it as an opportunity to provide the Board a personal understanding of the life unlived, the good work undone and the impact of the event on those left behind. My sister-in-law will be represented by her attorney. Facing the man who killed her husband, raped her repeatedly and set her home on fire is simply too much to ask of her.
But justice is blind and the State of California doesn’t quite get that.
People in the know have told us the critical importance of the parole hearing and the impact statement that I will make. It’s much easier for a Board to recommend release when the victim is forgotten. Preparing for this event is time consuming and draining as we rally support among politicians, law enforcement officials, friends and family to remind the Board of the consequences of granting freedom to this person.
Some may read the details of this crime and think how random it was and how fortunate they are that something like this didn’t happen to them. I understand that emotion. So, on April 15 perhaps I won’t be doing this only for my brother or my sister-in-law.
Maybe, in some way, I’m also doing it for you.
Eric Carlson is a resident of Alamo, Calif. He is the younger brother of Frank Carlson, who was brutally murdered in his Potrero Hill home and the brother-in-law of the survivor of the attack.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Examiner.