An appellate court judge has granted Leslie Van Houten a hearing regarding her writ of Habeas Corpus challenging Jerry Brown’s reversal of her September 2017 Parole recommendation.
Judge Frances Rothschild today ordered the attorney general to come before the court to show cause as to why Van Houten’s petition should not be granted. The hearing will be held in downtown Los Angeles at 9 A.M. on April 24th.
Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, feels the courts are Van Houten’s best path to freedom.
A parole board found Van Houten suitable for parole in September 2017. Then-Governor Jerry Brown reversed the decision in January of 2018, citing the heinousness of the murders. Brown accused Van Houten of downplaying her role in the murders, saying she attempted to shift blame to Charles Manson.
Pfeiffer filed a writ of Habeas Corpus challenging Brown’s reversal, arguing the decision relied on isolated negative factors to support the conclusion that Leslie Van Houten posed an unreasonable risk if released.
In June of 2018, Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan upheld Brown’s reversal.
“The Governor met all due process requirements, and considered all relevant statutory factors tending to show suitability, including positive psychological reports,” wrote Ryan. “This court is not entitled to reweigh the evidence before the Governor; rather it is tasked with determining whether the record contains some evidence in support of the Governor’s decision. This court finds that it does, and that there is a rational nexus between the evidence in the record and the Governor’s determination of [Van Houten’s] current dangerousness.”
Pfeiffer immediately challenged Ryan’s ruling in California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal.
Van Houten, was sentenced to death in 1971 for her part in the August 10, 1969 murder deaths of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. The following year, Van Houten saw her sentence commuted to life after the California supreme court outlawed the death penalty, stating it was unconstitutional. In 1976, an appeals court ruled Van Houten was denied a fair trial because her attorney, Ronald Hughes, disappeared while the trial was in progress.
Van Houten was retried in 1977, resulting in a hung jury. She was retried the following year and again convicted, this time sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Because of time served on her original sentence, Van Houten was already eligible for parole when she returned to prison in August of 1978.
Since then, she has been denied parole 19 times. She has been recommended for parole in her last three consecutive parole hearings. Her 2016 and 2017 parole recommendations were reversed by then-Governor Jerry Brown. Her most recent parole recommendation is still being reviewed by the Board of Parole Hearings and will eventually be reviewed by newly elected Gavin Newsom.