Hearing Held For Manson Follower

Associated Press/May 23, 2002
By Linda Deutsch

San Bernardino, Calif. -- A judge hearing the appeal of a parole rejection for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten said Thursday that the board has failed to give Van Houten any guidance on how she could become eligible for release.

"If I were in Ms. Van Houten's situation I wouldn't have a clue what to do before the next hearing to prepare,'' Superior Court Judge Bob N. Krug said.

The parole board's refusal to grant parole to Van Houten in June 2000 was the 13th time it had done so.

The graying Van Houten, 52, was convicted in the slayings of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca and was part of the Manson cult, which murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969 in one of California's most notorious crimes.

Her case is different than those of Manson, chief lieutenant Charles "Tex'' Watson, and two other women, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle, who participated in all seven murders.

Van Houten's initial conviction was overturned and a second trial ended in a hung jury. She was convicted after a third trial.

Krug said he would rule on Van Houten's appeal later. A ruling in her favor could affect similar parole cases, but the state would be certain to appeal.

The judge said he found identical language in an earlier decision and the ruling used by the board in rejecting Van Houten's parole.

"When I read the decision it sounded like they just read from a script,'' he said. "It's almost verbatim. ... Isn't that a pro forma decision?''

Van Houten's attorney, Christie Webb, argued that the hearings had become "a sham'' and that the board has never considered any of Van Houten's efforts to improve herself but merely denies parole because of the notoriety of her crime.

"If the state can use the crime without making a link to current dangerousness, they could go on for another 33 years, turning her sentence into life without the possibility of parole,'' Webb said.

The board in 2000 said Van Houten could benefit from further therapy in prison, but Webb said Van Houten has exhausted all available programs and has become a leader of some programs.

Deputy Attorney General Heather Bushman, who argued for supporting the parole board decision, said the board considered all factors in the case and acted within its prerogative.

But the judge said he believes the law requires findings that would allow a court to review the decision.

"These hearings have to serve some purpose,'' he said. "She was sentenced to life with parole and she is entitled to a date someday.''

Outside court, Sharon Tate's sister, Debra, said Van Houten should never get out.

"None of these people should ever be allowed into society,'' she said. "Whether or not she can change is irrelevant to me. All of these people were guilty and given the death sentence, and that's what's in my mind.''

The Manson defendants' sentences were commuted to life when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in the 1970s.

Van Houten's 83-year-old father, Paul, attended the hearing and said he has hope.

"She's been rehabilitated for years,'' he said. "She's no more a danger to society than I am.''

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