Manson killer 'to be freed'

The Daily Express, UK/April 19, 2009

Four killers who belonged to cult leader Charles Manson’s so called "family" are pleading for freedom 40 years after their spree of murder and mayhem.

One, Susan Atkins, who is California’s longest-serving female prison inmate, is being backed by the prosecutor who put them all behind bars.

Former Los Angeles assistant district attorney Vincent Bugliosi says he will support her parole application on May 28, despite outrage from victims’ families.

He is backing her bid for release "on compassionate grounds" as Atkins has brain cancer and now suffers paralysis in 85 per cent of her body.

He said: "She has paid substantially, though not completely for her horrendous crimes. To pay completely would have meant imposing the death penalty."

Bugliosi also claimed the release of the 60-year-old would "save the state money" as the cost of her daily medical care is now believed to be £675.

If Atkins is set free, the three other jailed Manson followers have vowed to step up their campaigns to be released, claiming they are completely reformed.

They are Charles ‘Tex’ Watson, 63, who became an ordained prison minister in 1983, Patricia Krenwinkel, 61, who is allowed to help train puppies to become prison service dogs and Leslie Van Houten, 59, who mentors other inmates in a jail education programme.

All were convicted of nine murders, seven of which were carried out in a two-day rampage that terrorised Los Angeles in 1969. It was started by Manson’s twisted desire to trigger an apocalyptic race war.

As part of his insane master plan, which he named Helter Skelter after the Beatles’ song, with which he was obsessed, Manson told his followers that black people would be blamed for the killings.

Among their victims was eight-months pregnant actress Sharon Tate, who was attacked at the home she shared with film director Roman Polanski. Atkins held Sharon down and stabbed her 16 times, then drank her blood and used it to scrawl the word "pig" across the ­couple’s front door.

Known within the Manson family by the alias Sadie Mae Gutz, Atkins was convicted for her part in eight of the murders committed by the cult.

Like other members of the group, she claimed to be acting on the orders of guru, Manson, now 74, who is serving life in California’s Corcoran prison.

He and his followers were sentenced to be executed but escaped the death penalty when the state temporarily banned capital punishment.

Its restoration at a later date did not affect them as their sentences had already been commuted to life imprisonment.

In an eerie twist, a new jail photo of Manson was released last month - before Atkins and her fellow cronies revealed their latest campaigns to secure release.

All have claimed repeatedly that they are sickened and horrified by their crimes and all say they now revile their former mentor.

In page after page of pleas and appeals to the parole board, all have sworn that they are reformed.

A source who has seen some of their testimony said: "If you didn’t know who they were, you would feel a genuine sense that they should be shown mercy. Not once do any of them refer directly to their terrible crimes."

Yesterday, however, relatives of their victims expressed "horror" and "disgust" at the prospect of them being set free.

They are also outraged that Atkins has won the support of Bugliosi and others.

Debra Tate, 56, who was 16 when her sister Sharon was killed, said: "The Manson Family are sociopaths who can never be rehabilitated. I am incredulous that anyone could condone the release of any of them.

"Has everyone forgotten the sheer ­barbarity of their actions and the sheer evil of their intent? The seven murders they committed were so vicious, so i­nhumane and so depraved that there can be no turning back."

Atkins, who will be making her 18th parole application next month, is thought by California legal expert Andre Hinman to have a "strong chance" of succeeding with her plea.

He told the Sunday Express: "I understand there is a growing consensus that she is so chronically ill that she poses no possible threat and so should be freed on compassionate grounds."

In the past, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has indicated that he would oppose all parole attempts by the Manson family killers and possibly even go as far as vetoing parole board decisions.

However, Mr Hinman said: "He is a Republican governor swimming hard against a liberal tide in a new administration. He may find support for Atkins to be released is too overwhelming to ignore."

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