By Daniel Trotta and Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California appeals court on Tuesday overturned Governor Gavin Newsom to find Leslie Van Houten, one of Charles Manson’s murderous “families”, eligible for parole after more than 50 years of jail for his role in the 1969 cult killing spree.
Van Houten, 73, the youngest of Manson’s loyalists, has been recommended for early release by the state parole board five times since 2016, but has been denied three times by Newsom and twice by his predecessor, fellow Democrat Jerry Brown.
The 2-to-1 decision by a three-member state Court of Appeals panel for the 2nd District sided with the findings of the Board of Parole Hearings that Van Houten, who was 19, when the murders were committed, has been rehabilitated and no longer poses a danger to society.
The governor could appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.
In his latest rejection of his parole in 2022, Newsom cited alleged inconsistencies between Van Houten’s statements at the time and at the time of the murders, which he said suggested “gaps in Ms. Van Houten, or both”.
But in granting his motion, the appeals judges wrote that Newsom’s conclusion “disregards the decades of therapy, self-help programming and reflection that Van Houten has undergone over the past 50 years.”
This is the first time a court has overturned a governor’s denial of parole to a Manson follower, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Manson, who died in prison in 2017 aged 83, ordered his mostly young and female followers to murder seven people, including actress Sharon Tate, in August 1969 in what prosecutors have said. declared to be part of a plan to incite a race war.
Van Houten was convicted of fatally stabbing grocery store owner Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in their Los Angeles home on August 10, 1969. The words “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” – a misspelled reference to a Beatles song – were found scribbled in the victims’ blood on the walls and fridge.
The night before, members of Manson’s cult broke into the Los Angeles hillside home that Tate shared with her husband, filmmaker Roman Polanski, who was in Europe at the time.
Tate, who was 26 and eight months pregnant, was killed along with four friends of the celebrity couple, including cafe heiress Abigail Folger and hairstylist Jay Sebring.
Van Houten’s initial conviction and death sentence in 1971 were initially overturned on appeal, but she was retried, found guilty, and sentenced to prison in 1978.
Although Manson, one of the most notorious criminals of the 20th century, did not personally kill any of the seven victims, he was convicted of ordering their murders.
The death sentences he and other supporters received were commuted to life in prison after capital punishment was declared unconstitutional in 1972.
Manson was also later convicted of ordering the murders of two other people that summer – music teacher Gary Hinman and stuntman Donald “Shorty” Shea.
(Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, Calif.; Editing by Leslie Adler)