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L.A. County DA Urges Governor Against Parole For Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten

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"Leslie Van Houten doesn't know exactly how to react after the jury couldn't decide on a verdict. Picture taken as she leaves Criminal Court House Saturday afternoon." Photo ca. 1977. (Photo from the Herald-Examiner Collection, via the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
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L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has asked Governor Jerry Brown to deny parole for Leslie Van Houten, the youngest of Charles Manson's followers.

Leslie Van Houten, now 66, was sentenced to death in 1971. However, her sentence was commuted to life in prison after the death sentence was invalidated in the state of California in 1972. She had been up for parole 20 unsuccessful times before her most recent hearing in April, after which the state parole board recommended her release.

L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey wrote a 5-page letter to the governor asking him to deny Van Houten's parole, according to a release from the DA's office. The letter was released to the public today.

In it, Lacey writes that Van Houten has often attempted to minimize her involvement in the crime, often blaming her parents' divorce, an abortion she had at a young age, Charles Manson and LSD for her behavior. Lacey also noted that Van Houten has often maintained that while she held down a woman so that another Manson family member could stab her, she only stabbed the woman after she was dead. Lacey also wrote that a clinician who evaluated Van Houten's mental state was a long-time friend of Van Houten's who had submitted a letter on her behalf in the past, and noted that Van Houten "tried to hide that detail from the Board in hopes that they would see a favorable evaluation."

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Inmate Van Houten’s falsehoods and minimized admissions of involvement are part of a pattern of manipulation where she admits to involvement in the murders in an effort to convince the haring panels and appellate courts that she has true insight, remorse and an understanding of the magnitude of her crimes. In reality, she clearly lacks insight, genuine remorse and an understanding of the magnitude of her crimes. The viciousness of the murders, the relationship of those murders to the effort to incite the 'Helter Skelter' race war and Van Houten's attempts to minimize her criminal responsibility make her an unreasonable risk of danger to society.

Helter Skelter, according to Manson, would occur after he and his followers murdered multiple wealthy white people and framed black people for their crimes. He told his followers he believed this would incite a race war, during which they would hide out and wait for it to end. One-time follower Barbara Hoyt explained to Keith Morrison in an episode of Dateline that Manson told them that black people would win the race war, but would be unable to govern themselves. Therefore, Manson and his followers would come out of hiding and take over. Hoyt left the Manson family prior to the killings.

Though Van Houten was not directly involved in Sharon Tate's murder, her sister Debra Tate has petitioned for Brown to deny Van Houten's parole, racking up over 140,000 signatures on a Change.org petition.

Tate appeared on Good Morning America in April, saying that Manson's former followers "are still sociopathic individuals and capable of great brutality. The heinous crimes that were committed in the past in 1969 will repeat themselves again. I am quite sure."

In the past, Brown has denied parole for Bruce Davis, who was convicted of the murder of Donald Shea, who worked at Spahn Ranch.

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On August 9, 1969, a 19-year-old Van Houten accompanied several other Manson followers to the Los Feliz home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. She assisted Tex Watson in the slaying of Rosemary LaBianca, testifying that she held the woman down as Watson stabbed her several times, then stabbed LaBianca herself. Investigators found that LaBiacna had been stabbed over 40 times. Van Houten has repeatedly maintained that she only stabbed LaBianca after she was dead.

Van Houten was not present the night before when Manson followers murdered actress Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski and Stephen Parent at Tate and filmmaker Roman Polanski's Cielo Drive home on August 8, 1969.