Former Charles Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten May Have a Chance at Today's Parole Hearing
60-year-old former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten goes up for her 19th parole hearing today. According to the Associated Press, two new precedents may give Van Houten her best chance yet at release.
She has a new lawyer, Brandie Devall, who told The Associated Press 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.
Devall said the finding has also been upheld in federal court.
Another recent case, she 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.
Also in Van Houten's favor is the fact that she has been a model prisoner since she was first incarcerated. Her chances for parole are enhanced by the fact that she has been discipline free since her incarceration in the early 1970s, has positive psychological reports and has been active in self-help groups at Frontera, where Patricia Krenwinkle is also being held.
Even if Van Houten is recommended for parole at today's hearing, the entire state parole board would then have 120 days to review the decision. The recommendation would then be submitted to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a final ruling. That does not bode well for Van Houten. Another former Manson follower, Bruce Davis, convicted of murdering Gary Hinman and Donald "Shorty" Shea, was granted a parole date this year which was then reversed just last month by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In addition, fellow Manson follower Susan Atkins was denied parole for the 18th and final time on September 2, 2009 after also being denied a compassionate release. Atkins died of natural causes 22 days later, on September 24, 2009, at the Central California Women's facility in Chowchilla
It's been a long legal battle for Van Houten. Her first conviction was thrown out (due to a mysteriously missing lawyer, Ronald Hughes, later found dead), and her second resulted in a hung jury. Her third trial resulted in her being convicted of robbery and murder. Along with Manson, Atkins and Krenwinkle her sentence was reduced to life in prison when the death penalty was temporarily outlawed during the 1970s.
Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were killed. Watson and Krenwinkle, following Manson's orders, insisted Van Houten also stab Rosemary LaBianca. During the penalty phase of her trial she confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead. The coroner's report upholds that those 16 stab wounds were post-mortem).
If Van Houten is refused parole, there is no set date for a new hearing. According to the AP article, according to "a new law, the board can set the length of time between parole hearings at 3, 5, 7, 10 or 15 years."
Besides two new precedents, and a perfect record as a model prisoner, she even has longtime friend John Waters on her side. As he states, "Leslie has taken responsibility, and she has followed the rules — the rules that they have told her to follow to get parole. ... She's the poster girl for the California prison system."