California governor denies parole for Manson follower

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Leslie Van Houten, the youngest member of the Manson "family" to take part in a series of gruesome California murders in 1969, has been denied freedom again — her past overshadowing her decades as a model prisoner.

California Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday overturned a parole board recommendation in April that found Van Houten, 66, was no longer the violent woman who helped slaughter a wealthy grocer and his wife.

The board noted that during her 46 years in prison, Van Houten completed college degrees, ran self-help groups for other inmates and had a spotless disciplinary record.

Brown disagreed with their conclusion.

"She remains an unacceptable risk to society if released," he wrote in a five-page review that denied Van Houten parole for the 20th time.

Her lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said he expected Brown's decision because of the political pressure put upon him. He said he will challenge the decision in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where he hopes Van Houten's parole will fare better "because the judges and the courts have less political pressure than does someone like the governor."

The next parole hearing could come in as little as a year, Pfeiffer said.

At 19, Van Houten was the youngest follower of Charles Manson to take part in killings he orchestrated in hopes of fomenting a race war that he dubbed "Helter Skelter," after a Beatles song.

She did not take part in the Manson "family" murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in 1969 but did participate in the killings of grocer Leno La Bianca and his wife, Rosemary, the next day.

At her parole hearing, Van Houten described how she helped secure a pillow over the woman's head, wrapped a lamp cord around her neck and held her down while another member of the Manson family began stabbing the woman in her home.

Van Houten said she joined in the attack after Charles "Tex" Watson handed her a knife and told her to "do something." She stabbed Rosemary La Bianca at least 16 times.

"I don't let myself off the hook. I don't find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself," she told the panel.

The La Biancas were stabbed dozens of times, the word "WAR" was carved on Leno La Bianca's stomach and messages were scrawled on the walls in Mrs. La Bianca's blood.

"The shocking nature of the crimes left an indelible mark on society," Brown wrote. "The motive — to trigger a civilization-ending race war by slaughtering innocent people chosen at random — is equally disturbing."

Brown said it was unclear how Van Houten, a former homecoming queen from suburban Monrovia, California, transformed from a "smart, driven young woman" into a killer.

However, Brown said Van Houten's statements to a psychologist and the parole panel this year falsely implied that she was "a victim who was forced into participating in the Family without any way out."

In actuality, Brown wrote, she was willing to kill, wiped away fingerprints at the home after the attacks, and later bragged that the stabbing was "fun."

"Even two years after the murders, when interviewed by a psychologist, Van Houten admitted that, although she had no present desire to kill anyone, she would have no difficulty doing it again," Brown said in his statement.

"Gov. Brown has done a good thing here, and I think he sees what we see — that this was an unrepentant killer," said Lou Smaldino, nephew of the La Biancas.

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and relatives of the victims last month turned in signatures of 140,000 people opposing Van Houten's release.

"These people need to remain in jail until their passing day, for justice to be served," said Debra Tate, Sharon Tate's sister who delivered the signatures to Brown's office last month and has organized opposition to the release of Manson family members.

Manson, 81, and other followers involved in the killings are still jailed. Patricia Krenwinkel and Watson have each been denied parole multiple times, while fellow defendant Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.

Family member Bruce Davis also was recommended for parole, but it was blocked by the governor in January.


Associated Press writers Amy Taxin, Darcy Costello, Alison Noon and Linda Deutsch, retired AP special correspondent, contributed to this report.