CHINO (CBSLA.com/AP) — A California panel has granted parole to former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten more than four decades after she went to prison for the notorious killings of a wealthy grocer and his wife.
The decision will now go to Gov. Jerry Brown, who has the final word on whether the now-66-year-old Van Houten is released from the California Institution for Women in Chino.
A panel of the California Board of Parole Hearings made the decision Thursday after Van Houten’s 21st parole hearing.
“She says she’s numb,” said Rich Pfeiffer, Van Houten’s attorney. “She’s been ready for this for a long time. It really should have happened a long time ago.”
Van Houten, a one-time homecoming princess, participated in the killings of Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary a day after other so-called “Manson family” members murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969.
During Thursday’s eight-hour hearing, she gave a detailed and graphic account of how she helped kill La Bianca back in 1969. At her last parole hearing, she was criticized for not explaining her part in the murder.
Family members were shocked and outraged by the decision.
“I can’t tell you what an injustice this is,” said Deborah Tate, a victim’s advocate. “I have the right to speak here because family members are scared to death of these people still. I know the carnage that has happened to the La Bianca family and the extended family as generations have gone down and I come forward on their behalfs. So I can’t speak as Deborah Tate. I speak as La Bianca.”
Van Houten was the youngest Manson follower to take part in one of the nation’s most notorious killings after she descended into a life of drugs and joined Manson’s cult in the 1960s.
“These are predatory killers,” said Tate. “Not crimes of passion. Not hate, no relation whatsoever. Random, break in the homes and kill folks. That’s a predatory killer.”
The commissioners agreed the crimes were atrocious, cruel, and monstrous, saying the very name Charles Manson evokes fear, evil, and danger in the general public.
But, they also said, Van Houten has taken measures to rehabilitate herself. She has completed college degrees and been commended for her behavior as a model prisoner. They say 17 doctors wrote letters, stating Van Houten is no longer a danger to society.
“The way that the parole was granted was just a dream come true,” said Pfeiffer. “The commissioners went through everything and found that there was not item or one factor that could be considered against parole.”
Attorney and CBS2/KCAL9 Legal Analyst Steve Meister says he was shocked by the decision. But he admits that, if any of the Manson follower be eligible for parole, it would be Van Houten.
“She was always the first who had turned from the family,” he said. “She’s always been vocal about how she left it behind. She’s remorseful.”
Meister adds though that he doesn’t believe Van Houten will get out of prison as he is convinced Gov. Brown will deny her parole.
Last year, Brown overturned the decision to parole Bruce Davis, another former Manson follower.
“No governor who wants to maintain his or her legacy and credibility with voters in the state Legislature will ever agree to the parole of a Manson family member,” Meister said.
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