LOS ANGELES — Leslie Van Houten, a follower of cult leader Charles Manson who took part in murders on his orders, is entitled to parole after spending more than 50 years behind bars, a California appeals court ruled Tuesday, reversing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to deny her release.
Van Houten, 73, has been recommended for parole five times since 2016, but all were denied by Newsom or his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown. Tuesday’s decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeal is the first time a court has overruled a governor’s denial of parole to a Manson follower.
In 2020, the Board of Parole Hearings recommended Van Houten for parole, saying that she did not “pose an unreasonable risk to public safety” and showed remorse for her crimes. Newsom rejected her parole in 2022 and said Van Houten would pose an “unreasonable danger” if released.
Newsom wrote in his denial that there were inconsistencies between Van Houten’s recent statements and those she made during the killings in the summer of 1969, indicating “gaps in Ms. Van Houten’s insight or candor, or both.”
Judges for the appellate court in Los Angeles wrote that Newsom’s rejection “fails to account for the decades of therapy, self-help programming and reflection Van Houten has undergone in the past 50 years.”
Newsom could still appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.
Van Houten is serving a life sentence for helping members of the Manson “family” kill Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in August 1969. Van Houten, who was 19 at the time, and the others fatally stabbed the LaBiancas and smeared their blood on the walls.
Manson and his followers were sentenced to death in 1971, but those sentences were commuted to life in prison after capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional in 1972.
Van Houten’s case was overturned on appeal; she was later convicted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
In 2017, Manson died of natural causes while serving a life sentence.