Judge To Hear Parole Plea From Manson Follower

Daily News - Los Angeles/May 20, 2002

Leslie Van Houten plunged a knife into Rosemary La Bianca's dead body in August 1969, and for the last 33 years she's been behind prison walls wishing she could change the past.

But the legacy left by members of Charles Manson's crime family won't likely be forgotten, and there's hardly a soul who can forgive Van Houten for mutilating the 38-year-old woman.

On Thursday, San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Bob N. Krug will listen to Van Houten's attorney appeal the state parole board's decision that Van Houten is not suitable for release.

Krug's courtroom was picked because Van Houten is required to file an appeal in the county where she resides.

She is incarcerated at the California Institution for Women near Chino.

Van Houten, 52, says she participated in the murders of Rosemary and Leno La Bianca because Manson brainwashed her and confused her with drugs and sex when she lived with the Manson group at the Spahn Ranch in the hills above the San Fernando Valley.

The former homecoming princess from a middle-class neighborhood in Altadena joined Manson and his band of misfits in the late 1960s and agreed to help with Manson's plan to kill wealthy whites and blame the murders on African-Americans so that he could start a race war.

Prosecutors say "Helter Skelter" was Manson's term for his plan.

The La Bianca murders occurred in Los Feliz one night after actress Sharon Tate and four of her houseguests were similarly murdered in their Benedict Canyon home.

Van Houten, 19 at the time, wasn't involved in the Tate murders, but she hasn't been able to shake the stigma of her association with the Manson family and what she did to Rosemary La Bianca's body.

Manson tied up the La Biancas at their home on Waverly Drive and asked followers Tex Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Van Houten to finish the job.

Van Houten said Watson told her to stab Rosemary La Bianca in the back and buttocks after she was dead. The group scrawled "Rise," "Death to Pigs" and, misspelling Manson's term, "Healter Skelter" in blood on the walls, and then they ate the La Biancas' food.

A jury found Van Houten guilty in 1971, and she was sentenced to death. During the trial, Van Houten remained loyal to Manson and scratched an X onto her forehead to copy him.

Van Houten's death sentence was reversed when a higher court ruled she did not have adequate trial representation.

Her 1977 retrial ended in a hung jury. She was tried again in 1978 and convicted in the La Bianca murders, and a judge sentenced her to life in prison but with the possibility of parole.

Van Houten eventually renounced Manson and her association with his followers. She has been a model prisoner, earned college degrees and worked as a clerk for a prison supervisor.

Still, the Board of Prison Terms has denied her release 14 times.

At her last hearing - in June 2000 - the parole board issued a two-year denial and suggested that Van Houten needed additional counseling so that she could reflect on her crime.

"Ms. Van Houten needs therapy to face, discuss, understand and cope with stress in a nondestructive manner," the board members said in a joint written decision.

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