Bruce Davis, a Charles Manson Follower, Has Parole Blocked for Fifth Time

The New York Times/June 24, 2017

By Jacey Fortin

A prison inmate who was a member of the Manson family has had his parole blocked by the governor of California for the fifth time.

A state parole board had recommended the prisoner, Bruce Davis, for parole in February. But Gov. Jerry Brown, who is known for taking a hard line against the followers of Charles Manson, refused to grant the parole on Friday.

In his decision, Governor Brown acknowledged that Mr. Davis, 74, who was convicted in 1971 of two counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and robbery, “has not been disciplined for any misconduct for 25 years, and he has made efforts to improve himself while incarcerated.”

But the governor said the inmate, along with Mr. Manson and other followers, had “committed some of the most notorious and brutal killings in California’s history.” He added that in the years since, Mr. Davis had played down his role in a series of gruesome killings in 1969, and had acted in ways that suggested a lack of remorse.

“This is just a governor playing politics,” said Michael Beckman, Mr. Davis’s lawyer. “Bruce Davis is the most rehabilitated California inmate that I’ve represented, and there’s not even a close second.”

Mr. Manson’s followers committed a string of highly sensationalized murders in Los Angeles in 1969. They were convicted of killing the actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant, and four people at her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 9, 1969. The next night, they killed a married couple, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, at their home.

Mr. Davis and other followers of Mr. Manson were convicted of killing Gary Hinman, a musician, in July 1969, and Donald Shea, a stuntman, a month later.

The victims were shot, beaten, suffocated, or stabbed with knives or forks. Their blood was used to write messages — such as “rise” or “political piggy” — on the walls at the crime scenes.

Mr. Manson told his followers that the killings were intended to ignite a race war that would bring about the end of civilization, which Mr. Manson called “Helter Skelter.”

Mr. Beckman, the defense lawyer, said Mr. Davis had taken responsibility for the crimes committed by Mr. Manson and his followers — even those in which he did not participate — and deserved to be freed. He said the next parole hearing for Mr. Davis could take place next year.

But the governor wrote on Friday that Mr. Davis “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.” It is the fourth time Mr. Brown has denied parole for Mr. Davis, who is incarcerated at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. Mr. Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, did the same in 2010.

Mr. Davis said at his parole hearing in February that, at the time of the killings, he “wanted to be Charlie’s favorite guy,” referring to Mr. Manson, according to the text of the governor’s decision.

Mr. Davis’s case is one of several in recent years that has forced officials to wrestle with a difficult question: whether Mr. Manson’s followers should be granted leniency because of their relative youth at the time of the murders, or because they may have been under the sway of Mr. Manson, who was considered a charismatic and ruthless leader.

Others who participated in the 1969 killings, but sought release as they aged behind bars, include Susan Atkins, who was ultimately convicted on eight counts of first-degree murder and lived in prison until her death at 61 in 2009; Patricia Krenwinkel, 69, who was denied parole for a 14th time on Thursday after officials considered whether abuse by Mr. Manson had affected her state of mind at the time of the killings; and Leslie Van Houten, 67, who was convicted in the LaBianca murders and sought parole 19 times before a board recommended it in April 2016. Three months later, Governor Brown blocked her release, as well.

Mr. Manson, 82, is incarcerated at the California State Prison in Corcoran. Records show that he has been denied parole a dozen times, most recently in 2012. His next parole hearing is scheduled for 2027.

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