Former Charles Manson disciple denied parole

The Associated Press/September 7, 2006

Frontera, Calif. -- Leslie Van Houten, the former Charles Manson follower convicted of taking part in a murderous rampage that terrorized Los Angeles 37 years ago, was denied parole for a 16th time.

Now a gray-haired 57-year-old prison inmate, Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the 1969 slayings of wealthy grocers Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.

The La Biancas were killed in August 1969, one night after Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others, including celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, filmmaker Voityck Frykowski and Steven Parent, a friend of the Tate estate's caretaker.

Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings, but went along on the next night when the La Biancas were slain in their home. Prosecutors said at Thursday's hearing at Frontera's California Institute for Women that she had felt "left out" of the first night's carnage.

As she has during past hearings, Van Houten apologized to the victims' families, but the parole board was not swayed. Board members determined she was an "unacceptable public safety risk and a danger to society" and unsuitable for parole, said board spokesman Tip Kindel.

Van Houten, Manson and two other followers of the cult leader were originally sentenced to death, but their sentences were reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after California's death penalty was briefly suspended in the 1970s. None of them have been released.

Although Thursday's ruling keeps her in prison, Van Houten won one small victory when the board told her she may reapply for parole in one year rather than the usual two.

"Certainly, a one-year denial is an indication of something positive," Van Houten's attorney, Christie Webb, said afterward.

She added that Van Houten is a model prisoner and no longer the brainwashed Manson acolyte who helped murder the La Biancas.

"She can't do anything to change the day of the crime, but she improved herself and she is no longer a danger to society," Webb said.

Patrick Sequeira of the Los Angeles County district attorney's office expressed disappointment at Van Houten's being allowed to apply for parole next year. He said she should never be freed.

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