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May 31, 2023

Split state appeals court finds "no evidence" supporting California Gov's rejection of parole for "Manson family" member

As reported in this AP piece, "California appeals court said Tuesday that Leslie Van Houten, who participated in two killings at the direction of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969, should be let out of prison on parole." Here is more about a notable high-profile ruling:

The appellate court's ruling reverses an earlier decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom to reject parole for Van Houten in 2020. She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016. All of those recommendations were rejected by either Newsom or former California Gov. Jerry Brown, with the latest such rejection coming in March of 2022.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta could ask the California Supreme Court to stop her release. Neither his office nor Newsom's immediately responded to requests for comment on whether they would do so.

Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers kill Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife Rosemary.  Van Houten was 19 at the time.  Newsom has said that Van Houten still poses a danger to society. In rejecting her parole, he said she offered an inconsistent and inadequate explanation for her involvement with Manson at the time of the killings.

The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled 2-1 to reverse Newsom's decision, writing there is "no evidence to support the Governor's conclusions" about Van Houten's fitness for parole.  The judges took issue with Newsom's claim that Van Houten did not adequately explain how she fell under Manson's influence.  At her parole hearings, she discussed at length how her parents' divorce, her drug and alcohol abuse, and a forced illegal abortion led her down a path that left her vulnerable to him.  They also argued against Newsom's suggestion that her past violent acts were a cause for future concern were she to be released.

The full 67-page opinion from the Second District Court of appeals can be found at this link. Here is part of the start of the opinion from the majority:

We review the Governor’s decision under the highly deferential “some evidence” standard, in which even a modicum of evidence is sufficient to uphold the reversal. Even so, we hold on this record, there is no evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions.

Van Houten provided extensive explanation as to the causative factors leading to her involvement with Manson and commission of the murders, and the record does not support a conclusion that there are hidden factors for which Van Houten has failed to account.  The Governor’s refusal to accept Van Houten’s explanation amounts to unsupported intuition.  The Governor’s finding of inconsistencies between Van Houten’s statements now and at the time of the murders fails to account for the decades of therapy, self-help programming, and reflection Van Houten has undergone in the past 50 years.  The historical factors identified in the criminal risk assessment are the sort of immutable circumstances our Supreme Court has held cannot support a finding of current dangerousness when there is extensive evidence of rehabilitation and other strong indicators of parole suitability, all of which Van Houten has demonstrated.

May 31, 2023 at 11:22 PM | Permalink


She should die in prison. And yeah, I know she's remorseful and wouldn't hurt a fly.

This is interesting: https://hotair.com/john-s-2/2023/05/31/scot-peterson-the-coward-of-broward-finally-heads-to-trial-n554758

Posted by: federalist | Jun 1, 2023 9:29:28 AM

I didn't realize that judicial review of a denial of parole was a thing. In my jurisdiction, it's a purely executive branch function for which there is no judicial review. See La. R.S. 15:574.11(A).

Posted by: MBC | Jun 2, 2023 10:29:25 AM

In my state, we have very limited review of parole decisions -- more for procedural error than for the merits of the decision.

Posted by: tmm | Jun 2, 2023 12:49:52 PM

What do people think of the Scot Peterson prosecution?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 2, 2023 2:21:31 PM

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