Ex-Manson follower Leslie Van Houten denied parole

Leslie Van Houten, a Charles Manson follower convicted in a 1969 killing spree, was denied parole for the third time in three years in June 2019. Photo by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

LOS ANGELES — Former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten Friday lost her latest attempt to be released on parole, with a state appeals court panel declining in a 2-1 ruling to reverse former Gov. Jerry Brown’s rejection of her release.

Van Houten, 70, has been recommended for parole three times, but those recommendations have all been reversed — twice by Brown and once earlier this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Van Houten — who is serving a life prison term — was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles “Tex” Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the August 1969 killings of grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, and his 38-year-old wife, Rosemary, who were each stabbed multiple times in their Los Feliz home.

The former Monrovia High School cheerleader did not participate in the Manson family’s killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Benedict Canyon mansion the night before.

In a ruling in which Associate Justice Victoria Gerrard Chaney dissented, the panel from California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal found that Brown’s “conclusion that Van Houten lacks insight into her commitment offenses, and thus remains a threat to public safety, is supported by some evidence in the record. As the governor noted in his reversal, the record has several instances in which Van Houten appears to qualify the responsibility she feels for the crimes by emphasizing Manson’s role.”

“As the governor recognized, Van Houten has shown some willingness to accept responsibility. Her inability, however, to discuss that responsibility except through the lens of Manson’s influence reasonably could suggest to the governor that Van Houten has not accepted full moral culpability for her actions, that is, that she considers herself less blameworthy because she committed her crimes at Manson’s behest. This in turn creates concern that Van Houten presents a current danger, because in emphasizing Manson’s influence, she minimizes the fact that she chose, indeed enthusiastically, to murder the La Biancas,” Associate Justice Helen Bendix wrote, with Presiding Justice Frances Rothschild concurring in the 28-page ruling. “Without fully understanding her pivotal role in these crimes, the governor could fairly conclude that she still presented a danger if she rejoined society.”

In a 33-page dissenting opinion, Chaney wrote that “the record contains no evidence that rationally supports the governor’s decision reversing the (parole) board’s grant of parole” in September 2017.

“Even if one were to accept (I do not) that Van Houten has placed too much responsibility for the La Bianca murders on Manson’s influence or inadequately explained why she committed to his nefarious cause over 50 years ago, this is not evidence that she is currently dangerous,” Chaney wrote. “If anything, this shows she has committed herself to remaining vigilant to identifying malign influences and has girded herself against them.”

During oral arguments in June before the panel, Van Houten attorney Rich Pfeiffer contended his client deserves to be released because she has been fully rehabilitated, is no longer a threat to anyone, has been a model prisoner and takes full responsibility for her crimes.

But Jill Alicia VanderBorght of the state Attorney General’s Office argued against Van Houten’s release, citing the “extreme gravity” of the crimes and her continued “minimization” of her role in them.

Manson died in November 2017 of natural causes while serving life in prison.

At the June appeals court hearing, Bendix questioned whether Van Houten had expressed remorse for her crimes. “I do know that she has expressed remorse at every single parole hearing,” Pfeiffer responded. “The hardest part for her is describing what she did … because she can’t undo it.”

But VanderBorght said she had not seen any remorse from the defendant.

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