Charles Manson cult member denied parole for 15th time

Channel News Asia/August 26, 2004

Los Angeles -- One of the members of the murderous 1960s Manson "family", Leslie Van Houten, sobbed and apologised to her victims' family as she was denied parole for the 15th time.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," she cried. "I was raised to be a decent human being. I turned into a monster and I have spent these years going back to a decent human being, and I just don't know what else to say."

Van Houten, 55, is serving a life sentence for her role in the gruesome August 1969 murders of a Los Angeles store owner and his wife, a day after Charles Manson's acolytes killed film star Sharon Tate and four other people at her Beverly Hills mansion, sowing panic in Hollywood.

But a two-member parole panel sitting in a jail near Los Angeles found Wednesday that Van Houten, who was one of Manson's gang of devoted young women 35 years ago, should spend the next two years in state prison, at least.

"We have come to the conclusion that you're not yet suitable for parole," one of them announced after a hearing that lasted more than two hours and included about a half hour of deliberations.

The now grey-haired former cheerleader and daughter of a middle-class family will be next eligible for parole in 2006. She was last denied a chance at freedom two years ago.

Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles "Tex" Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the slayings of grocers Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.

Prosecutors said Van Houten stabbed Rosemary between 14 and 16 times in the back, although Van Houten has maintained Rosemary was already dead when she began stabbing her on Manson's orders and under Watson's supervision.

Van Houten did not participate in the Manson family's slayings of the eight-month pregnant Tate, three friends and a visitor at a home rented by Tate and her husband, Polish-born director Roman Polanski.

Manson had hoped the copy-cat murder would disguise the Manson family's role in the Tate murder and help spark a racial war which he dubbed "Helter Skelter," prosecutors alleged.

The death sentences handed down to Van Houten and other members of Manson's family after their 1970 trial were commuted to life in prison with the chance of parole after the US Supreme Court temporarily abolished capital punishment.

Manson, Krenwinkel, Watson and other members of the family all remain behind bars and have repeatedly been refused parole.

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