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April 14, 2016

California board recommends parole for former "Manson family member" Leslie Van Houten

Though the federal system and a number of states have abolished parole, a number of states still have this method of prisoner release and high-profile cases often provide a reminder of this important reality. And, as highlighted by this new Los Angeles Times article, headlined "Board recommends parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten," high-profile parole cases can reach back to crimes committed nearly a half-century ago. Here are the details and some context:

A California review board recommended parole Thursday for former Charles Manson family member Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted in the 1969 killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The decision was issued following a hearing earlier in the day at the California Institution for Women in Chino.  Van Houten has been denied parole 19 times since she was convicted of murder in the deaths of Leno LaBianca, a wealthy grocer, and his second wife at their Los Feliz home.

After the ruling is reviewed by the parole board's legal team, it will be forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown, who could decide to block Van Houten’s release.  Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey expressed disapproval after the decision was announced: "We disagree with the board's decision and will evaluate how we plan to proceed."

The youngest of Manson’s followers, Van Houten, 66, has been considered the least blameworthy member of the group, and has been portrayed by supporters as a misguided teen under the influence of LSD on the night of the killings. A former homecoming queen from Monrovia, Van Houten did not join in the Aug. 9, 1969, killings of Sharon Tate, the wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others at the Benedict Canyon home that Tate was renting.

But the following day, then-19-year-old Van Houten joined in slaying the LaBiancas. Van Houten and another woman held down Rosemary LaBianca as Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed Leno LaBianca. After Watson stabbed Rosemary LaBianca, he handed Van Houten a knife. She testified to stabbing Rosemary at least 14 more times. The blood of the victims was used to scrawl messages on the walls, as had been done at the Benedict Canyon home.

In prior bids for parole, Van Houten's attorneys have characterized her as a model inmate who has obtained a college degree behind bars and has been active in self-help groups. At a 2002 parole board hearing, Van Houten said she was “deeply ashamed” of what she had done, adding: "I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson."...

Van Houten's attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, said he believed the two-member board was most persuaded by her exemplary behavior behind bars. "Since 1980, there were 18 different doctors who did psychiatric evaluations of her. Every single one found she was suitable for parole," Pfeiffer said.

Van Houten told her attorney that she was left "numb" by the decision handed down Thursday. Pfeiffer said he's hopeful that Brown opts to grant her parole. "The opposition to parole has always been the name Manson," he said. "A lot of people who oppose parole don’t know anything about Leslie’s conduct. Her role was bad. Everyone’s was. But they don’t know what she’s done since then and all of the good she’s done."

Last summer, a parole board recommended parole for Manson associate Bruce Davis, who was convicted in the 1969 killings of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea. But in January, Gov. Brown rejected parole for the 73-year-old, stating that “Davis' own actions demonstrate that he had fully bought into the depraved Manson family beliefs.” Davis was not involved in the killings of the LaBiancas, Tate and four others.

April 14, 2016 at 09:01 PM | Permalink


For those of you who believe in the killing of humans by the hand of law (what you call The Death Penalty), I suggest that you ask for a retrial and impose the killing by the hand of law upon this human. Do not let her go!

Posted by: Barkin Dog | Apr 15, 2016 7:38:39 AM

She should acknowledge that her crimes deserved the death penalty and that she is so lucky to be considered for parole.

I would not release her.

Posted by: federalist | Apr 15, 2016 9:35:46 AM

The fact that Manson Family members are being paroled is only the tip of an ignored iceberg and is hardly a surprise. The last few years in California, the Governor-appointed Board of Parole Hearings has been granting parole in lifer hearings (where the inmate is typically in prison for murder) at a rate of roughly 33%. Governor Brown, with a few notable, often high-profile exceptions, is refusing to overturn these decisions.

Posted by: Cal prosecutor | Apr 15, 2016 12:17:24 PM

"After Watson stabbed Rosemary LaBianca, he handed Van Houten a knife. She testified to stabbing Rosemary at least 14 more times. The blood of the victims was used to scrawl messages on the walls, as had been done at the Benedict Canyon home."

I vote no. Maybe if and when she reaches 80, but not now.

Posted by: Michael R. Levine | Apr 15, 2016 1:57:38 PM

What's so special about 80, if 47 years (more than Ted Cruz has been alive) isn't enough for a teenager under the spell of a cult leader after doctors and the state review board says "okay"?

The notoriety of the crime is key here, apparently -- we can probably find a range of actors involved in horrendous murders, rapes and other horrible crimes out sooner than this. I'm sure she is not up there on people I'd worry about being in prison, but she is probably down there on people I'd worry about releasing.

Posted by: Joe | Apr 15, 2016 2:25:05 PM

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