A California panel on Wednesday recommended that Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten be paroled after serving more than four decades in prison. After a hearing at the women’s prison in Chino, California, commissioners of the Board of Parole Hearings found for the third time that the 69-year-old Van Houten was suitable for release.
If her case withstands a 150-day review process, it will rest in the hands of California’s new Gov. Gavin Newsom. Van Houten was recommended for parole twice previously, but then Gov. Jerry Brown blocked her release. Van Houten was among the followers in Manson’s murderous cult who stabbed to death wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in 1969.
Van Houten was 19 during the killings, which came a day after other Manson followers killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in Los Angeles. In his decision last year, Brown acknowledged Van Houten’s youth at the time of the crime, her more than four decades of good behavior as a prisoner and her abuse at the hands of Manson. But he said she still laid too much blame on Manson for the murders.
At her last hearing, Van Houten described a troubled childhood. She said she was devastated when her parents divorced when she was 14. Soon after, she said, she began hanging out with her school’s outcast crowd and using drugs. When she was 17, she and her boyfriend ran away to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District during the city’s Summer of Love. She was traveling up and down the California coast when acquaintances led her to Manson.
He was holed up at an abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had recruited what he called a “family” to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders.
Van Houten said she joined several other members of the group in killing the LaBiancas, carving up Leno LaBianca’s body and smearing the couple’s blood on the walls. No one who took part in the Tate-LaBianca murders has been released from prison.
Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence. Earlier this month, a California parole panel recommended for the first time that Manson follower Robert Beausoleil be freed. Beausoleil was convicted of killing musician Gary Hinman.
Associated Press journalists Don Thompson in Sacramento and Amy Taxin in Orange County contributed to this report.