Leslie Van Houten, follower of cult leader Charles Manson, takes a big step towards freedom

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The governor of California announced on Friday that he would not ask the state Supreme Court to block the parole of Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, clearing the way for his release after he served 53 years in prison for two infamous murders.

In a brief statement, the governor’s office said the state High Court was unlikely to consider an appeal of a lower court ruling that Van Houten should be released.

Newsom is disappointed, according to the statement.

“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal murders, the families of the victims are still feeling the impact,” the statement said.

Van Houten, now 70, is serving a life sentence for aiding Manson and other supporters in the 1969 murders of Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary.

Van Houten could be released in about two weeks after the parole board reviews her case and processes the paperwork necessary for her release from California’s Corona Women’s Facility, her attorney Nancy Tetreault said.

She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016, but Newsom and former Governor Jerry Brown have rejected all of those recommendations.

However, a state appeals court ruled in May that Van Houten should be released, noting what it called his “extraordinary rehabilitation efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, family support and friends” and reports of favorable behavior in prison.

“She is thrilled and overwhelmed,” Tetreault said.

“She’s just grateful that people recognize that she’s not the same person she was when she committed the murders,” she said.

After his release, Van Houten will spend about a year in a halfway house, learning basic skills such as how to get groceries and get a debit card, Tetreault said.

“She has been in prison for 53 years. … She just needs to learn how to use an ATM, not to mention a cell phone, not to mention a computer,” her attorney said.

Van Houten and other Manson supporters killed the LaBiancas in their home in August 1969, then smearing the walls with their blood. Van Houten later described holding Rosemary LaBianca with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed her, before stabbing the woman more than a dozen times herself.

“My family and I are heartbroken because we once again remember all the years that we didn’t have my dad and stepmom with us,” said Cory LaBianca, Leno’s daughter. LaBianca, to The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday.

“My children and my grandchildren never got to know them, which was a huge void for my family,” said Cory La Bianca, 75.

The LaBianca murders took place the day after Manson supporters killed actress Sharon Tate and four others. Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings.

Manson died in prison in 2017 of natural causes at the age of 83 after nearly half a century behind bars.

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