A petition by convicted murderer and Manson Family follower Leslie Van Houten challenging Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent refusal to parole her was denied by the California Supreme Court on Thursday.
Van Houten was arrested at age 19 in 1969 for helping Manson Family leader Charles Manson murder Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary in August of that year. Van Houten had personally held down and repeatedly stabbed Rosemary LaBianca during the murder, but did not participate in the more famed Sharon Tate murders that happened a few days before. In 1971, Van Houten was sentenced to death, but had her sentence blocked by the removal of the death penalty in 1972. After several more years of legal wrangling, Van Houten was finally sentenced to life in jail in 1978.
Since then, Van Houten has tried for parole 25 times and had been up for parole the last five times due to the death of Manson in 2017. Former Governor Jerry Brown had denied her twice, with Newsom rejecting her parole three times as well. Her most recent parole hearing in November 2021 led to her being recommended for parole again, with that decision still being under review. However, Van Houten’s legal team had previously questioned Newsom’s last parole denial in 2020, saying that he had denied her due process due to not providing legal documents saying when the case was referred to him and said that he may have gone past the 30 day limit for review.
However, Newsom had given his parole denial only three weeks after the initial recommendation, saying that “Given the extreme nature of the crime in which she was involved, I do not believe she has sufficiently demonstrated that she has come to terms with the totality of the factors that led her to participate in the vicious Manson Family killings. Before she can be safely released, Ms. Van Houten must do more to develop her understanding of the factors that caused her to seek acceptance from such a negative, violent influence, and perpetrate extreme acts of wanton violence. She currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”
Based on the evidence, the California Supreme Court refused to hear hear her petition and officially shut down her hopes for her 2020 parole petition to succeed.
California Supreme Court denies Van Houten freedom
Newsom’s recent denials of Van Houten still posing an “unreasonable danger” despite multiple parole boards recommending her for parole have been part of a trend dating back to numerous previous Governors denying the parole of some of California’s most infamous criminals.
“In the last few years there has been a lot of talk about California going soft on crime and not prosecuting criminals and things like that,” said Barry Riley, a California-based survivor’s advocate, to the Globe on Friday. “And that may be true, but the most infamous and dangerous just are not released in California that often, if ever. Manson family members, including Manson himself, have, and still are, routinely denied by Governors. Newsom, Brown, Schwarzenegger, Davis, and beyond. Same goes for other like Sirhan Sirhan, who was just denied a month ago.”
“Not only are these people murderers, but releasing them back into the public is a very visible mark of where they stand on crime. And with crime being high right now across the state, no one wants to be known as the person who let free someone like that.”
“And then on a more down to earth note, there the families to remember in this. The ones who lost their loved ones to these horrific acts. It doesn’t matter if these happened more than 50 years ago. They took away something that can never be replaced and gave mental wounds to loved ones that never fully heal. Paroling the person that did that will never heal those scars. And in high-profile cases like the Manson family, those scars are felt by nation to this date too, from us older folks who remember it happening, to younger folks who learn about it and are similarly horrified all these years later.”
Van Houten is expected to keep trying for parole in the coming years.
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