Governor ignored Rios’ December plea to block Shelton’s parole

Lassennews.com has obtained a copy of Lassen County District Attorney Susan Rios’ passionate Dec. 20, 2023, letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom seeking to block murderer Joseph Perry Shelton’s release on parole. Despite her plea to the governor, Shelton has been or soon will be released on parole.

Joseph Perry Shelton.

Here’s the text of her letter.

December 20, 2023
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th St, #1173
Sacramento CA 95814

Re: Parole Review of Inmate Joseph Perry Shelton, CDCR #C-40228

Hon. Gavin Newsom,
Sir, I write to you as the current elected District Attorney for the County of Lassen and am asking for you to please exercise your discretion in reviewing and overturning the recent finding of eligibility for parole for inmate Joseph Perry Shelton, CDCR # C-40228.

In January 1981, Inmate Shelton, along with two other men, Benjamin Silva (a known Hells Angel and is currently serving a life sentence for this crime as well, commuted from a death sentence), and Norman Thomas, were at a gas station in the area of Madeline in Lassen County.  While at the store, they observed two young individuals, Laura Craig and Kevin Thorpe.  Liking the looks of Ms. Craig, the three followed Laura and Kevin in inmate Shelton’s car. The three men placed a red light in the dashboard of the car and used it to pull over the car Laura and Kevin.  Silva and Thomas got into Laura and Kevin’s car while inmate Shelton followed behind in his own vehicle and they took Laura and Kevin to inmate Shelton’s cabin.  Here, for the next three days, the three men took turns raping Laura.  Kevin was tied to a tree outside in the middle of a Lassen County winter.  Silva and inmate Shelton unchained Kevin and took him up a hill where they took turns emptying a 30-round cartridge of a machine gun into Kevin; Silva took the first 15 shots and inmate Shelton took the next 15.  The next day Thomas was tasked with dismembering Kevin’s body.

After the men were done with Laura, they placed her in a vehicle, and with inmate Shelton driving, traveled down the road a bit, had her get out and Silva shot her on the side of the road. A few days later, inmate Shelton turned himself in to a police department in Placer County while wearing Kevin’s boots.

Laura and Kevin were young, on their way home to college in Oregon.  Laura left behind two children who have had to cope with the brutal loss of their mother for nearly 40 years.

Inmate Shelton has come up for parole a number of times.  A few years ago, he was found eligible but then-governor, Governor Brown, exercised his discretion and overturned the parole grant. In fact, Governor Brown’s exact statement in his decision was, “The record indicates that Mr. Shelton was far from a passive participant in these crimes,” despite inmate Shelton’s statements to the parole board that portray himself as merely an innocent bystander.

In a subsequent parole hearing in 2019, Mr. Shelton was granted parole and on that occasion you yourself made the decision to overturn the parole board’s grant. I again write to you asking to make the same decision.

Since 2019, inmate Shelton has had, I believe three parole hearings. His parole had been denied up until this past hearing in September 2023. At that hearing, the commissioner assured inmate Shelton that the hearing was a “safe space” from the beginning and it was at that exact moment I knew the mind of the board members was already made up and that he would be granted parole that day.

During the hearing inmate Shelton’s diagnosis of dementia was discussed and then he parlayed that into statements of not knowing where he was, not understanding he was an inmate in state prison, but rather that he works for the state building houses. He claimed not to have any knowledge of his prior crimes, stated he had never been to prison, or thought that he might have been in trouble when he was younger. He had no impediment to speech. His affect was appropriate. He understood the questions he was being asked.

This sudden onset of inability is starkly different than his approach at parole in the past. It reminded me that during his trial, notes that he had written to his co-defendant Norman Thomas were introduced into evidence. In those notes, Shelton tells Thomas to “keep playing crazy” as if it were some defense to the crimes of which they were accused. It lends suspicion to his current situation as if he is taking his own advice to try to finagle a parole grant when his prior approaches had failed.

Even if his symptoms were not feigned, the parole board did not even recommend a medical parole which would entail some sort of monitored treatment. They approved a straightforward parole. Which now begs the question that even if he is suffering from some sort of dementia, is the plan to just let him loose on the streets with no aftercare?

As I previously opined to you after Shelton’s last grant of parole, a life sentence should mean life. He will be released from his prison, but the children and families of Laura Craig and Kevin Thorpe will never be released from theirs. We are on the eve of the 42nd Christmas that these families have lived without their loved ones; children without their mother. On this day I again ask for your exercise of discretion in this matter and overturn the parole board’s decision. Keep inmate Shelton where he currently is, where he belongs, and if he truly is ailing, where he can receive the attention he requires.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Susan M. Rios
Lassen County District Attorney