Youngest Manson follower makes new bid for parole
The youngest of Charles Manson's followers is once more attempting to persuade a parole board that she has reformed and - at the age of 68 - deserves to be released from prison.
Leslie Van Houten, who was 19 when she killed for Manson during a series of murders that terrorised Los Angeles over the summer of 1969, was due to appear before a panel for the 21st time on Wednesday.
A similar panel at the California Institution for Women in Chino, where Van Houten is incarcerated, tentatively granted her parole last year but was overruled by state Governor Jerry Brown.
Van Houten has candidly described how she joined several other members of the "Manson Family" in killing Los Angeles grocer Leno La Bianca and his wife, Rosemary, in their home on August 9 1969.
She was not with Manson followers the night before when they killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others during a similar bloody rampage.
At her parole hearing last year, Van Houten said she helped hold down Rosemary La Bianca while another Manson follower stabbed her repeatedly. She then took up a knife herself and added more than a dozen stab wounds.
"I don't let myself off the hook. I don't find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself," she said.
Since she was incarcerated more than 40 years ago, Van Houten has been a model prisoner and earned college degrees.
Members of the Tate and La Bianca families have argued repeatedly, however, against granting parole to her or any other Manson follower who took part in the killings.
None has been freed, and one, Susan Atkins, died in prison in 2009. Manson, now 82, remains behind bars.
After Van Houten was tentatively granted parole, Ms Tate's sister, Debra Tate, gathered 140,000 petition signatures opposing her release.
In overruling the panel, Mr Brown said Van Houten had failed to adequately explain how a model teenager from a privileged Southern California family could have turned into a ruthless killer.
Van Houten was both the youngest and also seemingly the most unlikely member of Manson's so-called family.
She had been a high school homecoming princess, athlete and cheerleader before dropping out of school and joining the rag-tag band of ersatz hippies who considered Manson, a career conman and petty criminal, to be a Christ-like figure.
She gave evidence that the trauma of her parents' divorce, her teenage pregnancy and other problems led her to drop out of school, run away from home, become involved in drugs and eventually join Manson's cult.
In an attempt to bolster her chances for release, Van Houten's lawyer put another former Manson follower, Catherine Share, in the witness box at a court hearing in Los Angeles last week. She said Van Houten was so young and impressionable that she was afraid to leave the cult.
"Some people could not leave. I was one of them that could not leave," said Share, who added that Manson threatened to have her tortured and killed if she tried.
Share, who did not take part in the killings, added that she believes Van Houten was also afraid to leave. She said she regretted encouraging her to join the cult.