PLEASANTON — Roughly 36 years after he brutally stabbed 14-year-old Tina Faelz behind Foothill High School in Pleasanton, the former classmate convicted of killing her has finally confessed.
Steven Carlson, 52, who was convicted of the April 5, 1984, slaying in 2014, but who declared his innocence, admitted in letters to the state parole board that he was guilty of the shocking crime.
Freelance journalist Josh Suchon, a former Oakland Tribune reporter who wrote the book, “Murder in Pleasanton: Tina Faelz and the Search for Justice,” obtained the letters and published them in an article last week in the San Francisco Chronicle.
“This letter of my deepest apologies is way overdue,” Carlson wrote in letters rife with misspellings. “I was living in denial for many years; not being able to believe or take responsibility for brutily (sic) murdering you on that day of April 5, 1984. I want you and your family to know you did absolutly (sic) nothing to deserve what I did to you. That’s what makes this murder so callous and horrific.”
Drew Faelz, Tina’s brother who was 8 years old when she was found stabbed 44 times, was not quick to accept the apology.
“It’s just confirmation of what we knew,” Drew told The Independent. “I don’t think he has any remorse whatsoever. I think he is just trying to get out of prison early.”
Tina's frightening death stunned the Tri-Valley region, an area not known for homicides, let alone such a savage crime involving a teenage victim.
Her mutilated body was discovered in a ditch along Interstate 680, her schoolbooks scattered beside her body, The Independent reported in 2014. Her purse, which would prove later to be significant in identifying her killer, was tossed into shrubbery behind her.
Carlson, who was in Tina's freshman class, became a suspect in 1986, when police questioned him after hearing rumors he had confessed. Carlson, known as “Creepy Carlson” at the time, lived across the street from where Tina's body was found.
At the time, Carlson admitted to detectives that he had told friends he killed Tina, but said he was joking. Detectives had no case against him.
The killing went unsolved for more than two decades despite repeated efforts from Pleasanton detectives to solve it. DNA technology finally led detectives back to Carlson more than 25 years later.
In 2008, Detective Dana Stout sent Tina's bloodstained purse that was found in the bushes to an FBI lab. Tests identified one blood stain as Tina's. The other three belonged to Carlson, who in 2011 was in jail on an unrelated case.
In 2014, jurors convicted Carlson of first-degree murder. A judge sentenced him to 26 years to life in prison. Carlson appealed, and in 2017, California's First District Court of Appeal reduced the conviction to second-degree murder — saying it was not premeditated — and the sentence was reduced to 16 years to life.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation records show Carlson is serving his sentence at the state prison in Tehachapi. He was scheduled for his first parole hearing, but officials noted on Oct. 7 that he was unsuitable. He becomes eligible for another hearing in 2023.
It's unclear whether his confession would help him ever see freedom again. Even if the parole board grants him parole in 2023, California's governor — who would be Gavin Newsom in a second term — could veto the decision.
In handwritten letters, the Chronicle reported, Carlson said he was whipped as a child, wet his bed into adolescence, used drugs at 13 and felt a "sick arousal" with pornography.
Carlson, the newspaper said, wrote that his parents were on vacation that day. He threw a party for friends, but they broke into his father's liquor cabinet and played with his mother's underwear. Intoxicated, he went back to school, where a varsity football player tossed him into a dumpster, locked it and turned it on its side. A teacher freed him. Students laughed at him. He went home drunk.
Full of rage at how his classmates treated him — and knowing he would get whipped when his parents came home and discovered the party mess in the house — Carlson looked out the window and saw someone coming along the path.
“Everything happen(ed) so fast,” Carlson wrote. “I remember going to kitchen and grabed (sic) a butcher knife. I walked across the street into the field at the ‘gully’ that’s where at the time was Tina Faelz.”
Carlson wrote that he didn't remember the stabbing motions, but recalled standing over her bloody body, holding a bloody knife."
In 2011, when Pleasanton police arrested him for the murder after he was released from the Santa Rita Jail on an unrelated drug charge, Carlson told the San Jose Mercury News he was innocent.
“I may be a dirtbag,” Carlson told the paper at the time. “But I didn’t hurt nobody.”
Now, he wrote, he wanted to provide “insight to the brutal murder of Tina Faelz.” In his letter, he apologized for the fear he created in Pleasanton and for the pain he caused Tina's family. Tina's mother, Shirley Orosco, died Feb. 13, 2014, of a heart attack, the day Carlson's trial was set to begin.
"This was all so overwhelming for Tina's loving mother to go through," Carlson wrote. “This murder went unsolved for almost 3 decades. All the false leads false suspects that lead to no arrest. The tiresome long hours that the detectives worked. I left a nice community of Pleasanton in fear that a vicious murderer was out roaming around for years."
Drew said his mother had called him to say, “They got him,” when police arrested Carlson in 2011. He also blamed Carlson for his mother’s death.
Over the years, before police arrested Carlson, Drew said he would search the internet, checking on names that would come up as suspects. Every April 5, he thinks about that awful day. He said he can see when people recognize his name, but are hesitant to ask if he was related.
Faelz remembers the sister who helped to raise him after his parents separated a few years before her death.
“My mom was trying to get accustomed to being a single parent,” he said. “My sister stepped up as a big sister and in a mom role. She would care for me quite a bit ... my sister was always there.”
Drew plans on going to the parole hearing in 2023.
“He’s had a lot of crime since. He’s on Megan’s Law now,” Drew said. “Hopefully, all that comes into play when parole is considered. I just don’t want him getting out.”