By Michele Hanisee
For the second time in two years, a state parole board panel has ruled that cold-blooded killer Leslie Van Houten should be freed.
Van Houten, a member of the notorious Manson family, admitted to participating in the slaughter of Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, on Aug. 10, 1969. First, she held down Rosemary LaBianca so fellow Manson-follower Tex Watson could skewer her with a bayonet. Then, she seized a knife and plunged it 14 more times into the helpless woman’s back.
Van Houten, who grew up in a middle-class family in Altadena, California, was recruited by Manson while she was living in a commune in northern California. Manson and his followers allegedly committed the murders in order to start a race war.
Van Houten, who laughed and giggled her way through her own trial testimony, was sentenced to death but her sentence was commuted to life in prison when the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty. She was later granted a new trial and ultimately sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.
Nineteen times, she applied for parole. And nineteen times, the parole board struck down her requests. Until last year, when a panel at the California Institution for Women in Chino, where Van Houten is incarcerated, inexplicably decided that she deserved freedom. Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the panel’s recommendation. In his decision, he said Van Houten never properly explained how a privileged kid could turn into a vicious killer. Now a searing spotlight is once again focused on Gov. Brown. He has 150 days to uphold, reject or take no action on the parole board panel’s latest stupefying decision.
Not surprisingly, the idea of freeing Van Houten sickens the relatives of those whose lives she and her acolytes so merrily snuffed out. Last year, Debra Tate, the sister of actress Sharon Tate, who Manson’s followers butchered the night before they set upon the LaBiancas, orchestrated a petition opposing Van Houten’s release. More than 140,000 people signed it.
It’s shameful that the parole board is once again dragging the victims’ survivors along their mind-numbing journey of insanity. The ADDA strongly encourages Gov. Brown to once again demonstrate the courageous leadership he demonstrated last year.
The ADDA also strongly encourages all of its members to write to the governor expressing their outrage and adamant opposition to releasing this callous killer. And we will keep you apprised of any outside efforts to ensure Van Houten spends her remaining years behind bars.
Oh, and one more thought: don’t forget that the parole board that wants to free Van Houten is the same parole board that is entrusted with ensuring that no dangerous criminals are unleashed upon our communities under the felon-freeing initiative known as Prop. 57.
Michele Hanisee is President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.