SAN LUIS OBISPO (CBS/AP) — After 43 years in prison and 30 parole hearings, parole officials on Thursday again decided it is safe to free Charles Manson follower Bruce Davis.
They recommended that Davis be paroled in the 1969 slayings of musician Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.
It’s the fourth time for such a recommendation, but the 72-year-old Davis remains imprisoned at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
The previous three such recommendations by the Board of Parole Hearings were blocked, once by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and twice by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Brown most recently rejected Davis’ parole a year ago, saying he remains dangerous despite his age. It will be about five months before Brown decides on Thursday’s recommendation.
“I am pleased that the board again followed the law and did the right thing, and I am hopeful that the governor will do likewise,” Davis’ attorney, Michael Beckman, said by telephone after the hearing.
Davis was not involved in the notorious killings of actress Sharon Tate and six others, but Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney John Morris said the lesser-known slayings are plenty to keep him behind bars.
“The heinousness of the crimes held Southern California in the grip of fear for months,” said Morris, who heads the district attorney’s parole division and drove to San Luis Obispo to oppose Davis’ parole. “The reason for the crimes was to incite the race war of Helter Skelter.”
Manson interpreted the Beatles song to symbolize an Armageddon-like war between whites and blacks. He convinced some of his followers that the killings would help spark the war and benefit his “family” of disciples.
Since his conviction, Davis has become a born-again Christian who earned a doctoral degree in philosophy of religion and ministers to other inmates.
He is serving a life sentence for two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and robbery.
As she does every year, Sharon Tate’s sister — Debra Tate — was front and center at the parole hearing.
She’s been fighting Davis’ release for years.
“There is probably no justice left in this world,” she told KCAL9’s Serene Branson Thursday. “I think we’ve just opened the gates of hell, literally.”
Although Davis didn’t participate in the murder of Tate and her friends, Debra has been appointed spokesperson for the victim’s families.
“I’m very worried that Brown no longer cares about public opinion as much,” Debra says, “he signed an elderly inmate act, paroled suitable or not.”
She says that letter Davis wrote to the victim’s families referred to him feeling “sorry” for hurting people.
“He didn’t refer to killing them, he’s still minimizing everything,” Debra says.
Davis’ attorney insists his client has been rehabilitated.
But Manson prosecutor Stephen Kay told Branson by phone he’s not so sure.
“He’s kinda flown under the radar,” said Kay but he still thinks Davis is a threat.
Debra is fearful Brown will uphold the appeal since he is not up for re-election.
Branson says the recommendation for release still has to go up for review and that can take four months. The governor then has another month to decide whether to uphold the ruling or reverse it. A spokesperson for the governor said he doesn’t have a stance on what he will do just yet.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)