Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten should be released on probation, appeals court rules


LOS ANGELES (AP) — A California appeals court said Tuesday that Leslie Van Houten, who was involved in two murders under the direction of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969, must be released from prison on probation.

The appeals court ruling reverses an earlier decision by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who rejected parole for Van Houten in 2020. She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016. All of those recommendations were rejected by either Newsom or former Gov. Jerry Brown. .

Newsom could request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta ask the California Supreme Court to stop his release. Bonta’s office referred requests for comment to Newsom’s office, which did not respond to questions about possible next steps.

Van Houten, now 70, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers kill Leno LaBianca, a Los Angeles grocer, and his wife Rosemary. Van Houten was 19 years old at the time.

Newsom has said that Van Houten still represents a danger to society. In refusing her parole, she said she offered an inconsistent and inadequate explanation of her relationship with Manson at the time of the murders.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Los Angeles ruled 2-1 to overturn Newsom’s decision, writing that «there is no evidence to support the governor’s conclusions» about Van Houten’s fitness for parole.

The judges took issue with Newsom’s claim that Van Houten failed to adequately explain how he came under Manson’s influence. At her parole hearings, she discussed at length how her parents’ divorce, her drug and alcohol abuse, and her forced illegal abortion led her down a path that left her vulnerable to him.

They also argued against Newsom’s suggestion that her past violent acts were cause for future concern if she were released.

“Van Houten has demonstrated extraordinary rehabilitation efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends, favorable institutional reports, and, at the time of the Governor’s decision, had received four successive parole grants,” the judges wrote. “Although the Governor asserts that Van Houten’s historical factors ‘continue to be prominent,’ he does not identify anything in the record to indicate that Van Houten has not successfully addressed those factors through many years of therapy, substance abuse programs, and other efforts.

The dissenting judge argued that there was some evidence that Van Houten had no knowledge of the heinous murders and agreed with Newsom that her request to be released should be denied.

Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s attorney, said she hopes Newsom will request that Bonta ask the state Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision, a process that could take years.

In addition, Bonta is likely to request a stay of the appeals court ruling, Tetreault said. The high court could order Van Houten’s release while it decides whether to grant the stay.

«Of course, I will strongly oppose any suspension,» Tetreault said. «And they might let her out during that process.»

Van Houten was 19 when she and other cult members stabbed the LaBiancas to death in August 1969. She said they dismembered Leno LaBianca’s body and stained the walls with the couple’s blood.

The killings came a day after other Manson supporters, not including Van Houten, killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in acts of violence that spread fear in Los Angeles and captivated the nation.

Van Houten was deemed eligible for parole after a July 2020 hearing, but Newsom blocked her release. She filed an appeal with a lower court, which was rejected. She then sought her release through the appellate courts.

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