By Michele Hanisee
Here we go again.
For the third time in three years, a state parole board panel wants to free cold-blooded killer Leslie Van Houten.
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 plunged a knife 14 more times into the helpless woman’s back.
During her trial, Van Houten laughed and giggled her way through her own testimony. She was originally 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 2016, when a panel at the California Institution for Women in Chino, where Van Houten is incarcerated, inexplicably decided that she deserved freedom. The panel made the same recommendation in 2017.
Former Gov. Jerry Brown rejected the panel’s two previous recommendations to parole Van Houten, correctly finding that she posed “an unreasonable danger to society.” But the panel struck again last week.
Now, following a 120-day legal review of the decision, newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom will determine Van Houten’s fate. He will have a number of options to choose from. He can affirm, reject or modify the parole board panel’s decision. He can take no action, which would allow the decision to stand. Or he could order the full Board of Parole Hearings to review the panel’s decision.
How Newsom acts will have ramifications beyond Van Houten’s fate. His ruling will signal how he will likely approach public safety issues going forward.
The ADDA advocated forcefully against Van Houten’s release when she was up for parole in 2016 and in 2017, and we will continue to do so this time around. We also strongly encourage everyone to write to the governor expressing your adamant opposition to releasing this callous killer.
In a recent posting, we proposed a blueprint that would allow Newsom to remain true to his values while taking steps to address the more egregious elements of recent public safety disasters such as Props 47and 57, AB109 and SB1437. We firmly believe that by ruling Van Houten should remain behind bars, Newsom would show he is a governor who cares about public safety.
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.