Charles Manson follower Krenwinkel denied parole

The Associated Press/January 21, 2011

A parole board panel refused to consider releasing Charles Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkel Thursday, saying the brutal 1969 Sharon Tate murders still "remain relevant."

Ms. Krenwinkel, who has been imprisoned longer than any other woman in California, said that she threw away everything good in herself and became a "monster" after she met Mr. Manson.

The two-member panel made clear it was the horror of the killings, among the most notorious of the 20th century, that led them to reject the bid for parole in spite of Ms. Krenwinkel's efforts to change her life.

They said the atrocious murders of seven people had affected the entire world - evidenced by letters which came in from around the globe urging that she be kept behind bars - and said Ms. Krenwinkel failed to understand that.

"These crimes remain relevant," said parole commissioner Susan Melanson. "The public is in fear."

Ms. Melanson and deputy commissioner Steven Hernandez issued their decision after a four-hour hearing and more than an hour of deliberations at which Ms. Krenwinkel wept, apologized for her murderous deeds and said she was ashamed of her actions.

Members of victims' families also cried and recalled their suffering after the murders and called for her to be kept behind bars. Ms. Melanson said the notoriety of the crimes and their viciousness weighed heavily in the decision.

"The panel concludes that she is not suitable for parole and would present an unreasonable danger if released," she said. She said the seven murders over two nights could be classified as a hate crime because of the killers' suggestions of wanting to foment a race war.

"This was a depraved act by a group of individuals who find it difficult to explain their actions," she said.

The panel had the option to deny parole for up to 15 years. Ms. Melanson said they felt that was unnecessary and commended Ms. Krenwinkle for making progress in her life behind bars, participating in self-help programs and other contributions.

She was told she could request a parole hearing earlier if her situation changes.

Ms. Krenwinkel said she was seeking approval from Mr. Manson when she took part in the killings.

To that Ms. Melanson replied, "The panel finds it hard to believe a person can participate in this level of crimes and can't identify anything but ‘I wanted him to love me."’

Ms. Krenwinkel, one of Mr. Manson's two surviving female followers, has maintained a clean prison record in her four decades behind bars, but her chances for release appeared slim following parole rejections in other Manson cases.

During her hearing, the 63-year-old was soft-spoken and contrite in response to board members' questions, describing the downward spiral of her life after she met Mr. Manson.

"Everything that was good and decent in me I threw away," she said.

It was her father, she said, who helped her realize during his visits to her in prison, "what had happened, and the monster I became."

She said she tells those she counsels in prison, "I am someone you would never have wanted to be, and here are the steps you can take to never go to the dark places I have been."

Ms. Krenwinkel's claim that she is rehabilitated was met by anger and opposition from Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira and families of the victims, who argued for Ms. Krenwinkel's continued incarceration.

"If she truly had remorse, she wouldn't come to these parole hearings, and would say, ‘I accept the punishment,"’ Mr. Sequeira said.

Debra Tate, sister of Sharon Tate, then tearfully recounted the pain her family endured from the killings. She denounced Ms. Krenwinkel for never having written a letter of apology to the families.

"I want to believe the human condition is capable of change," Ms. Tate said. "I believe in the possibility of reform. But I know what I am looking at, and I don't see it here."

She told the board through tears that, "Whatever decision you make I will live with. But every time I sit in this chair I have to think, what will happen if they come out? What will society do?"

Anthony Di Maria, the nephew of Jay Sebring, who was killed along with Sharon Tate, cried throughout his words to the board, and said the parole hearings "send us back to hell, year after year."

"I wish I had forgiveness to give," Mr. Di Maria said.

Ms. Krenwinkel was convicted along with Manson and two other female followers in seven 1969 murders.

None of those convicted has ever been paroled and one of them, Susan Atkins, died in prison last year after being denied compassionate release when she was terminally ill with cancer.

Leslie Van Houten, 61, the youngest of the women convicted, was long thought to be the most likely to win eventual release. But she was denied a parole date last summer by officials who said she had not gained sufficient insight into her crimes.

Parole boards have repeatedly cited the callousness, viciousness and calculation of the murders committed by members of the Manson Family.

Ms. Krenwinkel admitted during her trial that she chased down and stabbed heiress Abigail Folger at the Tate home on Aug. 9, 1969, and participated in the stabbing deaths of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca the following night. Both homes were defaced with bloody scrawlings. She was convicted along with Mr. Manson, Ms. Van Houten and Ms. Atkins. Another defendant, Charles "Tex" Watson was convicted in a separate trial.

All were sentenced to death but their sentences were commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court briefly outlawed the death penalty in 1972.

In her 40 years at the California Institution for Women, Ms. Krenwinkel has earned a bachelor's degree and participated in numerous self help programs as well as teaching illiterate prisoners how to read. In recent years, she has been involved in a program to train service dogs for the disabled.

Asked to make her own final case to the board, Ms. Krenwinkel wept profusely, wiping her eyes with a tissue, and said, "I'm just haunted each and every day by the unending suffering of the victims, the enormity and degree of suffering I've caused."

Her voice rising in the silent room, she nearly shouted, "I'm so ashamed of my actions. The victims had so much life left to live."

Cult leader Mr. Manson, now 75, refused to appear at his most recent parole hearings where he was denied a release date, and it is likely that he will never be released.

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