Judge rules that parole board should give more guidance to former Manson family inmate

The Associated Press
Friday May 24, 2002

xSAN BERNARDINO — A judge said Thursday that a board that has repeatedly denied Leslie Van Houten parole in two Manson Family murders has failed to give her any guidance on what she could do to make herself suitable for release. 

“If I were in Ms. Van Houten’s situation I wouldn’t have a clue what to do before the next hearing to prepare,” Superior Court Judge Bob N. Krug said during a hearing on Van Houten’s appeal of the parole board’s refusal to grant parole — 13 times so far. 

Krug said he would rule after further consideration. A ruling for Van Houten could affect cases beyond hers but would be certain to be appealed by the state. 

The graying Van Houten, 52, was convicted in the slayings of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca and was part of the Charles Manson cult that murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others in the summer of 1969 — one of California’s most notorious crimes. 

Her case has been seen as somewhat different than those of Manson, chief lieutenant Charles “Tex” Watson, and two other women, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle, who participated in all seven murders. Van Houten’s initial conviction was overturned and a second trial ended in a hung jury. A third trial convicted her again. 

The judge said he compared the language of a parole board decision quoted in a landmark ruling with the language used by the board that denied Van Houten’s last bid for parole in June 2000 and found they were identical. 

“When I read the decision it sounded like they just read from a script,” he said. “It’s almost verbatim. ... Isn’t that a pro forma decision?” 

Van Houten’s attorney, Christie Webb, argued that the hearings had become “a sham” and that the board has never considered any of Van Houten’s efforts to improve herself but merely denies parole because of the nature of her crime. 

“If the state can use the crime without making a link to current dangerousness, they could go on for another 33 years, turning her sentence into life without the possibility of parole,” Webb said. 

She said the state is required to make a connection between the gravity of the crime and whether Van Houten would be a danger to society if released. 

All of the records, the attorney said, show that she would not be a danger. 

“She is not the person she was at age 19 when she participated in the crimes,” Webb said. “She has not taken drugs in three decades. She is much more of a leader than a follower in prison. ... And she has insight into how she could have participated in these crimes and how she can make amends.”