Manson follower faces parole board
A one-time Charles Manson follower long thought to be the most likely of his ex-acolytes to win freedom someday is facing her 19th parole hearing.
Leslie Van Houten will appear at the hearing with a new lawyer and new case law which may give her the best chance yet for freedom.
Even if there is a finding of suitability for parole at Tuesday's hearing, freedom would not be immediate. The entire state parole board would review the decision within 120 days and it would then be submitted to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for a final ruling.
Van Houten, 60, is detained at the California Institution for Women at Frontera, the same prison where another Manson follower, Patricia Krenwinkle, is imprisoned. Susan Atkins, the third woman convicted of murder in the crimes directed by cult leader Manson, died in prison last year after parole officials denied her dying request for freedom.
Van Houten last appeared before a parole board in 2007. Her chances for parole are enhanced by the fact that she has positive psychological reports and has been active in self-help groups at the prison including Golden Girls, a group for elderly women inmates.
Her new lawyer, Brandie Devall said she will refer to rulings by the California Supreme Court in 2008 and 2009 affecting standards for parole.
Most significant is the case of Sandra Lawrence, a convicted murderer who was paroled after 23 years in prison after the court held that to refuse parole there must be evidence that a prisoner is currently a danger to public safety. The court said the board could not base a refusal only on the details of the crime committed by the inmate long ago.
Another recent case, Ms Devall said, deals with inmates who are between 16 and 20 years old at the time of their crimes and holds that they are more likely to be rehabilitated. Van Houten was 19 when she joined other members of the Manson cult in the killings of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca.
Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the slayings of the wealthy grocers. The La Biancas were stabbed to death 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 Frykowksi and Steven Parent, a friend of the Tate estate's caretaker.
Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were killed in their home. During the penalty phase of her trial she confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs La Bianca after she was dead. Van Houten was sentenced to death along with Manson, Atkins and Krenwinkle but their sentences were reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in the 1970s.