Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


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Court of Appeal Orders New Parole Hearing for Man Once Sentenced to Death in ‘Barbecue Murders’


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The First District Court of Appeal has ordered a new parole hearing within 60 days for a Marin County man who was originally sentenced to death for murdering his girlfriend’s parents in 1975.

The Board of Parole Hearings’ 2012 decision finding Charles Riley unsuitable for parole is legally flawed, Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline wrote Thursday for Div. Two, because the evidence before the board did not support its findings that Riley was likely to endanger society if released.

Riley was 20 years old when he and his 16-year-old girlfriend, Marlene Olive, planned and carried out the murder of her parents, James and Naomi Olive, who had objected to their relationship, according to testimony.

Riley has admitted that he hit Naomi Olive in her head with a hammer while she was asleep in the family home in the Terra Linda section of San Rafael, shot James Oive in the back, and, with his girlfriend, burned the couple’s bodies in a fire pit. Reporters at the time dubbed the crimes the “Barbecue Murders” and they became the subject of a 1982 book, “Bad Blood: A Family Murder in Marin County” by Richard Levine.

Riley’s death sentence was overturned after the state Supreme Court ruled California’s former death penalty law unconstitutional in 1976, and he was resentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, the maximum sentence possible. Marlene Olive served a short term in a juvenile facility but has been convicted of numerous crimes such as theft and forgery as an adult.

In interviews with prison staff and parole officials, Riley described himself as a shy, overweight, drug-using teenager who had never had a girlfriend until he met Marlene Olive, a dominant personality who hated her parents and wanted them dead. Now 59, he has taken part in drug therapy and vocational training, has earned a college degree in prison and has been assessed by psychologists since the early 1990s as a low risk for violence.

He also became active in the prison Jewish community, attending services and participating in a self-help program. His rabbi said he described him as “polite, courteous and willing to help others…an upright example for other inmates to emulate.”

He has been denied parole more than a dozen times. The board acknowledged his remorse and strong record while incarcerated but said he might relapse if released because he lacked insight into the anger behind his crimes and might relapse into drug use.

Kline, however, in his opinion for the Court of Appeal, said the murders were a “one-time occurrence” by someone who has committed no other acts of violence before or since.

The presiding justice acknowledged that Riley’s substance abuse—one article about him said he used and distributed drugs as way of fitting in with his peers, who used to tease him about his weight, saying he had a charge account at the local Jack-in-the-Box—was a serious issue.

“But given petitioner’s extremely long period of abstinence, and determination to continue with [Narcotics Anonymous] and seek help from his network of support in the event he was drawn to consider using drugs or alcohol, it is difficult to imagine what more he could have done to address this concern,” Kline wrote.

Kline also cited a Stanford study that found paroled life-term prisoners are far less likely to commit new crimes than others released from prison.

The case is In re Riley, 14 S.O.S. 2524.


Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company