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Former Manson disciple Leslie Van Houten recommended for parole

The youngest of Charles Manson's murderous followers has been recommended for parole by a California state panel that concluded she has radically changed her life.

Leslie Van Houten has been in prison for more than 40 years for two brutal murders she helped commit 48 years ago, but is no longer a threat to society, the two-member panel ruled.

The ruling must still be approved by the state Parole Board and governor Jerry Brown, who reversed another panel's ruling last year.

In blocking her release then, Mr Brown said Van Houten had failed to adequately explain to the panel how a model teenager from a privileged southern California family who had once been a homecoming princess could have turned into a ruthless killer by the age of 19.

On Wednesday, the panel grilled her for two hours on how she could address those concerns.

"I've had a lot of therapy trying to answer that question myself," she said.

"To tell you the truth, the older I get the harder it is to deal with all of this, to know what I did, how it happened," added Van Houten, now a frail-looking 68-year-old who appeared before the panel on crutches, her grey hair pulled back in a bun.

She said she was devastated when her parents divorced when she was 14. Soon after, she said, she began hanging out with her school's outcast crowd in the Los Angeles suburb of Monrovia.

She started smoking marijuana and graduated to LSD at 15. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend ran away to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District during San Francisco's summer of love.

When they returned, she said, she discovered she was pregnant. When her mother found out, she ordered her to have an abortion and bury her foetus in their back garden.

Soon after, she was travelling up and down the California coast, trying to find peace within herself when acquaintances led her to Manson, who was holed up at an old abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of LA where he had recruited what he called a "family" to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders.

His disaffected, youthful followers became convinced that the small-time criminal and con man was actually a Christ-like figure and believed him.

As she did at her parole hearing last year, the soft-spoken Van Houten candidly described how she joined several other members of the "Manson Family" in killing LA grocer Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary in their home on August 9 1969, carving up Mr La Bianca's body and smearing the couple's blood on the walls.

She was not with Manson followers the night before when they killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others during a similar bloody rampage.

On the night of the second attack she said she held Rosemary La Bianca down with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed her dozens of times. Then, ordered by Manson disciple Tex Watson to "do something", she picked up a butcher's knife and stabbed the woman more than a dozen times.

"I feel absolutely horrible about it, and I have spent most of my life trying to find ways to live with it," she added quietly.

Relatives of the La Biancas did not believe her. They spoke emotionally as they pleaded with the commission to reject her parole bid.

"No member of the Manson family deserves parole, ever," nephew Louis Smaldino said. "She is a total narcissist and only thinks of herself and not the damage she has done."

Family members left before the panel announced its decision.

In reaching it, parole commissioners said they took into account Van Houten's entire time of incarceration, during which she has earned bachelor's and master's degrees in counselling, been certified as a counsellor and headed numerous programmes to help inmates.

AP

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