Ex-Manson Follower Sues Calif. Governor

Associated Press/June 1, 2003

Riverside, Calif. -- Former Charles Manson disciple and convicted murderer Susan Atkins is suing Gov. Gray Davis, contending his policy opposing parole for nearly all murderers has made her a political prisoner.

Parole board members and prison officials also are named in the federal civil rights lawsuit, which accuses them of ignoring the Constitution and parole rules to keep Atkins behind bars.

"Over the course of her incarceration, Ms. Atkins has been transformed into a political prisoner,'' said the suit, filed by attorney Eric P. Lampel of Irvine. He said psychiatrists call her a model prisoner who is not a threat to society.

Atkins, 55, who confessed at the sensational 1970-71 Manson trial that she fatally stabbed pregnant actress Sharon Tate, has since recanted that confession, saying she was present but did not kill Tate.

She was convicted along with Manson, Charles "Tex'' Watson, Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkle, and all were sentenced to death for their roles in a series of murders in the summer of 1969. The sentences were later commuted to life when the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in the 1970s. All five are still behind bars.

Atkins was denied parole for the 10th time in 2000, and relatives of those killed have adamantly opposed her release.

Since Davis took office in 1999, the governor has freed only two murderers, both women who were found to have suffered from battered women's syndrome when they committed the crimes. He has vetoed more than 150 other releases recommended by parole boards.

A 1988 voter-approved constitutional amendment gives California's governor carte blanche to overturn parole board-approved releases.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider restricting Davis's powers to block the parole of convicted murderers. The case was appealed by Robert Rosenkrantz, who was convicted of killing a teenage friend in 1985 after the friend revealed Rosenkrantz' homosexuality. Rosenkrantz sued Davis after the governor blocked his parole board-approved release.

Atkins' lawsuit, filed in April, seeks to advance her next parole hearing, now scheduled for 2004, to this year and asks for $1 million in punitive damages. Lampel has said all damages would be donated to crime victims.

The California attorney general's office last week filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, contending it is premature because Atkins has not exhausted other remedies.

U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin set a June 30 hearing.

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