Court Ruling: Leslie Van Houten should be paroled for Manson murders

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court said Tuesday Leslie Van Houten, involved in two murders in 1969 on the orders of cult leader Charles Manson, should be paroled from prison.

The appeals court decision reverses a previous decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who denied Van Houten’s parole in 2020. She has been recommended five times parole since 2016. All of these recommendations were rejected by either Newsom or former California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Newsom could request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta petition the California Supreme Court to halt her release. Bonta’s office forwarded requests for comment to Newsom’s office, which did not respond to questions about possible next steps.

Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers kill Leno LaBianca, a Los Angeles grocer, and his wife Rosemary. Van Houten was 19 at the time.

Newsom said Van Houten still poses a threat to society. When she refused her parole, he said she gave an inconsistent and inadequate explanation for her association with Manson at the time of the murders.

Leslie Van Houten attends her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women on September 6, 2017 in Corona, California.
Leslie Van Houten attends her parole hearing at the California Institution for Women on September 6, 2017 in Corona, California.

Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP

The Los Angeles 2nd Circuit Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Newsom’s decision 2-1, saying there was “no evidence to support the governor’s conclusions” regarding Van Houten’s eligibility for parole.

The judges disagreed with Newsom’s claim that Van Houten did not adequately explain how she came under Manson’s influence. At her parole hearings, she spoke at length about 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 claim that her past acts of violence would raise future concerns if she were released.

“Van Houten has demonstrated exceptional rehabilitation efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, positive institutional reports, and has received four consecutive parole grants at the time of the governor’s decision,” the judges wrote. “While the governor states that Van Houten’s historical factors ‘remain prominent,’ he finds nothing in the filings to indicate that Van Houten did not successfully address these factors through years of therapy, substance abuse programs and other efforts.”

The dissenting judge argued that there were indications that Van Houten had no insight into the heinous murders and agreed with Newsom that her request for release should be denied.

Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s attorney, said she expects Newsom to ask Bonta to ask the state Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision, a process that could take years.

In addition, Bonta will likely seek a stay of the appeals court verdict, Tetreault said. The Supreme Court could order Van Houten’s release while deciding whether to grant the stay.

“I will of course speak out strongly against any delay,” Tetreault said. “And they might let her out during that process.”

Van Houten was 19 when she and other cult members stabbed the LaBiancas in August 1969. She said they dismembered Leno LaBianca’s body and smeared the couple’s blood on the walls.

The killings came the day after other Manson supporters, not including Van Houten, killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a violent manner that spread fear across Los Angeles and gripped the nation.

Van Houten was found eligible for parole after a July 2020 hearing, but her release was blocked by Newsom. She appealed to the competent court, but it was dismissed. She then applied to the Courts of Appeal for her release.

___ Taxin reports from Orange County, California.

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