LOS ANGELES — With Charles Manson dead, the next chapter in the Manson family saga will involve follower Leslie Van Houten.
Van Houten is one of several Manson followers who are still alive and in prison. They periodically come up for parole review, though none has been released.
Van Houten, who was convicted along with other members of Manson’s cult in the 1969 killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, was granted parole in September by a panel of state commissioners in Chino. It was the 21st time that Van Houten, 68, had appeared before a parole board, and the second time that commissioners found her suitable for release.
Debra Tate, the sister of Manson cult victim Sharon Tate, expressed concern about Van Houten’s release.
“It’s important for people to know that these are individuals that are still brutal monsters capable of committing heinous crimes,” she told said. “Although I’ve forgiven, I have not forgotten, and I feel it’s very important that they stay exactly where they are until they die.
“While Charlie may be gone, it’s the ones that are still alive that perpetrated everything, and it was up to their imaginations for what brutal things were going to be done,” Tate added. “In an odd way, I see them as much more dangerous individuals.”
Gov. Jerry Brown will now decide whether to release Van Houten after more than 40 years in prison. Brown rejected her parole last year, concluding that Van Houten — the youngest member of Manson’s so-called family — posed “an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”
Her attorneys have argued she was only 19 when she took part in the crimes and that she has been a model prisoner. But her release has been strongly opposed by the families of the victims, prosecutors and many others.
A former homecoming queen from Monrovia, she did not join in the Aug. 9, 1969, murders of Sharon Tate, the pregnant wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others at the Benedict Canyon home Tate was renting.
But the following day, Van Houten was part of a group that stormed into the LaBiancas’ home in Los Feliz. As Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed Leno LaBianca, Van Houten and another woman held down Rosemary LaBianca.
After Watson stabbed Rosemary LaBianca with a bayonet, he handed a knife to Van Houten. She testified to stabbing Rosemary in the back at least 14 more times.
Van Houten, Manson and three others were convicted and sentenced to death, but after the California Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, their sentences were commuted to life in prison.
An appellate court overturned Van Houten’s conviction in 1976, and a second trial the following year ended in a hung jury. She was convicted of two counts of murder and one count of conspiracy in her third trial in 1978 and sentenced to seven years to life in prison.
In recent years, Van Houten’s attorneys characterized her as a model inmate, earning a bachelor’s in English literature and master’s degree in humanities while running self-help groups for incarcerated women.
At a parole board hearing in 2002, Van Houten said she was “deeply ashamed” of what she had done, adding: “I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson.”
Manson follower Patricia Krenwinkel was found guilty of seven counts of murder in the killings, including stabbing the LaBiancas to death and writing “DEATH TO PIGS” on the wall in the victims’ blood. She has been repeatedly denied parole. Follower Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.