Leslie Van Houten different one in Manson cult

By Linda Deutsch The Associated Press
Thursday June 27, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Of all the members of Charles Manson’s murderous “family,” Leslie Van Houten was always seen as the different one — the youngest, the one most vulnerable to Manson’s diabolical control. 

Now she hopes to be the first member of the cult involved in the 1969 Tate-La Bianca killings to get out on parole. 

On Friday — nearly 33 years since the slaughter of actress Sharon Tate and six others shocked the nation — Van Houten, 52, goes before the state parole board for the 14th time. This time, she might have a chance. 

The reason: Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Bob N. Krug strongly admonished the board for flatly turning Van Houten down every time based solely on the crime. Such decisions, he said, ignore Van Houten’s accomplishments in prison and turn her life sentence into life without parole, in violation of the law. 

In addition, Krug said that Van Houten had successfully completed every rehabilitation program offered in prison and that her psychiatric evaluations “clearly indicate that she is not a present danger to society and should be found suitable for parole.” 

Van Houten was a 19-year-old Manson disciple in the summer of 1969 when she participated in the stabbing deaths of grocers Leno and Rosemary La Bianca in their home. Van Houten was not present the night before when Tate and four others were slain at the actress’ Beverly Hills mansion. 

Van Houten, Manson, his chief lieutenant Charles “Tex” Watson, and two other women, Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkle, were convicted and sentenced to death for their part in the Tate-La Bianca murders. The sentences were later commuted to life when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in the 1970s. All five are still behind bars. 

Van Houten’s initial conviction was overturned on the grounds that she received an inadequate defense; her lawyer disappeared and was found dead during her trial, and she was assigned a replacement. Her second trial ended in a hung jury. A third trial ended in a conviction. 

Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay will be arguing against Van Houten’s parole for the 14th time. 

“This is not a garden-variety murder case and it should not be treated as such,” he said. “I commend her for her good acts in prison and she appears to be a model prisoner. I think she should spend the rest of her life being a model prisoner. I feel because of what she did, she is not entitled to parole.” 

In light of the judge’s ruling, however, Van Houten can take her case to court if she is denied parole again. 

Van Houten’s lawyer, Christie Webb, said she has shown remorse and has been rehabilitated. Van Houten went through alcohol and drug rehab, group therapy and psychotherapy. She also obtained a college degree in literature and has helped run drug and alcohol programs for other women. 

Webb said Manson’s influence on Van Houten was powerful. 

“She was the youngest. She was vulnerable and she was controlled by drugs and clever manipulation,” Webb said. “All that LSD changed the chemistry of her brain.” 

The lawyer added: “I certainly have sympathy for the victims’ families. But Leslie and her family are also among Charles Manson’s victims. We are talking about one horrible night of violence in her life when she was clearly not in her right mind.”