Leslie Van Houten was the youngest of the women who helped commit murders in Los Angeles at the direction of Charles Manson in August 1969. She has been in prison for 46 years — the original death sentences for Manson followers were vacated when California's capital punishment law was ruled unconstitutional — and for the first time, a two-member parole panel has declared her "suitable for parole." Van Houten had been turned down for parole 19 times previously. Before parole is granted, the decision has to be reviewed by the state's full parole board and Gov. Brown would have the chance to block Van Houten's release.
Van Houten was not involved in the most notorious Manson Family crimes — the killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at her Benedict Canyon home during a heat wave in the summer of 1969. The following night, Van Houten accompanied Manson and other family members to a Los Feliz home and took part in the killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, Van Houten stabbed Rosemary LaBianca in the back numerous times, and talked about the crimes at her parole hearing Thursday at the women's prison in Chino. From today's AP story:
On Thursday, Van Houten described in graphic detail for the panel how she helped secure a pillow over the head of Rosemary La Bianca with a lamp cord and hold her down while another member of the "Manson family" began stabbing the woman in her home.
Van Houten said she had looked off into the distance until another Manson follower told her to do something and she joined in the stabbing.
"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 told the panel.
Manson had departed the LaBianca home before the murders were carried out and stopped for a milk shake at a Denny's in Sylmar, where he left the victims' wallets, hoping apparently that African Americans would be blamed for the killings. Manson left the actual killers to hitchhike across the Valley to the Manson Family encampment at the Spahn Movie Ranch in the hills above Chatsworth.
Cory LaBianca, who was 21 when her father and stepmother were murdered, said she was disappointed in the move to release Van Houten. District Attorney Jackie Lacey also opposes parole for Van Houten. The parole panel cited Van Houten's record as a model prisonerduring the entire time she has been in prison.
"Your behavior in prison speaks for itself. Forty-six years and not a single serious rule violation," Commissioner Ali Zarrinnam told Van Houten Thursday.
The Manson followers are the longest serving females in the California prison system. Patricia Krenwinkel has the most time; Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.
Van Houten's original conviction was overturned on appeal. She was retried twice and convicted in 1978 of two counts of murder and conspiracy. She was 19 at the time of the crimes.
Van Houten, right, with Krenwinkel and Atkins during their trial.