Manson Family Member Leslie Van Houten Released

From a Washington Post story by Maham Javaid, Andrea Salcedo, and Caroline Anders headlined “Manson Family member Leslie Van Houten released on parole”:

Leslie Van Houten, a former member of Charles Manson’s cult and a convicted murderer, was released on parole from a correctional facility in Corona, Calif., on Tuesday.

Van Houten, 73, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole for two counts of first-degree murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder in 1971. She is the first person convicted in the Manson murders to be released on parole.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation confirmed her release Tuesday afternoon.

The California Board of Parole Hearings recently found that Van Houten has “shown extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends.”

“Leslie and I are extremely pleased by her release today, and that it happened so quickly after the governor’s decision not to seek review of the court of appeal’s decision,” her lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, said. “She is looking forward to this chapter of her life.”

Van Houten has been at her transitional living facility since her release Tuesday morning; she will stay there for a year, Tetreault said.

This was Van Houten’s fifth parole recommendation — earlier ones were rejected by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and his predecessor, Jerry Brown (D). Previously, Newsom argued that Van Houten posed an “unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”

In May, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles overruled Newsom and found that Van Houten was entitled to parole.

“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 appeals court said.

Newsom could have appealed the decision to the California Supreme Court. Instead, his office said he chose to allow the court’s decision to stand.

“The Governor is disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision to release Ms. Van Houten but will not pursue further action as efforts to further appeal are unlikely to succeed,” Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said in a statement Friday.

Van Houten was 19 when cult leader Charles Manson asked her to get into a car with several other Manson Family members on Aug. 10, 1969. Together, they prowled Los Angeles to spot their next potential victims: Leno LaBianca, who owned a local grocery store chain, and his wife, Rosemary.

Less than two years later, Van Houten was convicted of fatally stabbing the couple in their home.

Dianne Lake, a member of the Manson Family who was not present for the murder, later said Van Houten claimed “she had stabbed a woman who was already dead, and that the more she did it the more fun it was.”

A medical examiner later testified that Rosemary LaBianca was stabbed 41 times.

The words “Death to Pigs” and “Healter Skelter” — a misspelled reference to the Beatles song for which Manson named his invented race war — were found written in the victims’ blood on the walls and refrigerator of the LaBianca home.

Van Houten was initially sentenced to death for her role in the attacks, but after California abolished the death penalty in 1972, she was resentenced to life with the possibility of parole. (California later reintroduced capital punishment; Newsom instituted a moratorium in 2019.)

Manson was convicted of seven counts of first-degree murder and one of conspiracy to commit murder. He died in 2017 at 83 after spending decades in prison and being denied parole 12 times.

Van Houten and other Manson Family members have said Manson exploited their vulnerabilities, convincing them that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and that they must follow him.

“I believe that the things that made me weak and lost were ultimately used as manipulations against me in my conversations with Manson and how Manson chose to relate to me,” Van Houten said during a 2020 parole hearing. “I didn’t know it at the time.”

Many have been critical of Van Houten’s release, including family members of Manson and of his cult’s other victims.

Debra Tate, sister of actress Sharon Tate, who was murdered by Manson’s cult in August 1969, has criticized Van Houten’s parole decision.

“I knew that we would get here one day,” she said in a May interview with NewsNation. “Unfortunately, it’s appalling to me as a society, we would let predatory killers … even be considered for parole, but that is the law as it stands.”

Tate said that she does not believe Van Houten is remorseful and that she will continue to fight against the Manson Family member’s release.

“The California board wants rehabilitation to work. Of course, we all do,” Tate said. “But there’s a certain category of person that is unlikely for that to happen.”

Maham Javaid is a general assignment reporter who joined The Washington Post in 2022. She was previously reporting for the Live desk at the New York Times.

Andrea Salcedo is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2020 as an overnight reporter on the Morning Mix team. Previously, she covered breaking news and features for the New York Times metro desk.

Caroline Anders is a researcher for The Daily 202 and The 5-Minute Fix.

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