Manson Family’s Leslie Van Houten should be paroled, court rules

Leslie Van Houten, a former Charles Manson follower who was sentenced to life in prison for a gruesome 1969 double murder, could soon walk out of a correction facility in Corona, Calif., after a court ruled she should be released on parole.

The ruling overturns Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D) decision in 2020 denying Van Houten’s release, which the California Board of Parole Hearings recommended. Newsom argued Van Houten posed an “unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”

But on Tuesday, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said in a 2-1 opinion that there is no “evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions” that Van Houten didn’t meet the parole requirements.

“Van Houten provided extensive explanation as to the causative factors leading to her involvement with Manson and commission of the murders, and the record does not support a conclusion that there are hidden factors for which Van Houten has failed to account,” the opinion said. “The Governor’s refusal to accept Van Houten’s explanation amounts to unsupported intuition.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Van Houten’s attorney Nancy Tetreault said her client, now 73, is thrilled and deeply grateful after the court’s decision. Van Houten has undergone years of therapy and rehabilitation at the California Institute for Women correctional facility, where she has come to terms with the crimes and Manson’s influence over her, Tetreault said.

“The crimes were what they were,” Tetreault said. “They were terrible, but she really is a wonderful person now.”

Newsom now has 10 days to request that California Attorney General Rob Bonta petition the state Supreme Court to stop her release, Tetreault said. If the state Supreme Court denies it, the appellate court’s decision to pardon Van Houten stands and it could be a matter of weeks before she is set free under parole, Tetreault said.

Newsom’s office did not respond to a message from The Post asking whether the governor would contest the appellate court’s decision. Bonta’s office referred The Post to the governor’s office.

Van Houten has spent more than half of her life in prison for her part in the murder of Rosemary and Leno La Bianca, a supermarket executive.

In August 1969, Manson drove around Los Angeles with Van Houten and other members of the commune he established at Spahn Ranch in Chatsworth, Calif., called the Family. Manson, who would later be convicted of murder, believed civilization would end in a violent race war before his group would prevail.

After “following Manson’s apparently random directions for about four hours selecting and discarding possible victims,” court records state, Van Houten, then 19, eventually walked into the La Biancas’ home along with Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson, other members of the Family.

Inside the home, Watson told Van Houten and Krenwinkel to take Rosemary La Bianca into the bedroom and kill her.

Van Houten told a parole panel in 2016 how she held La Bianca down with a pillow and lamp cord as Watson stabbed her. Then he passed the knife to her, and Van Houten proceeded to stab Rosemary 14 times, later using the blood of the slain La Biancas to write messages on the walls of their home. Leno La Bianca’s body was found with the word “WAR” carved on his stomach.

A jury convicted Van Houten in 1971 of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. She was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. Since 2016, she has been recommended for parole five times. All of those recommendations were rejected by either Newsom or his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown (D).

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