Yearly Archives: 2017

Van Houten Appeals Tex Tapes Ruling

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Nov. 7 – Leslie Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, has taken his pursuit of the Tex tapes to California’s court of appeals.

Last week, Pfeiffer filed a Writ of Mandate with the appellate court asking them to reverse a Superior Court ruling that denied Van Houten access to the nearly half century old recordings.

Attorneys for Van Houten have been trying to obtain the recordings through discovery for four years. In August, the Superior Court granted Van Houten a hearing pursuant to People V. Franklin, in which she would be able to establish a record of mitigating evidence in support of youth offender parole. Pfeiffer asked the court to order the tapes be turned over for use in the hearing.

Opposing the release, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz argued that the penal code limits post-conviction discovery to cases with sentences of death or life without the possibility of parole.

On September 12, Judge William Ryan ruled against the release, agreeing with Lebowitz’s argument and adding the tapes only contained information already well known.

On September 21, attorneys representing Van Houten filed a reconsideration motion, which Ryan denied on the 29th, stating that they had failed to show “new or different facts, circumstances, or law as to warrant a different result upon reconsideration.”

Pfeiffer contends that the District Attorney’s withholding of the Tex tapes meets the criteria of Brady v. Maryland, which mandates the disclosure of evidence favorable to the accused, which is suppressed by the state, resulting in prejudice.

Ryan ruled that Brady did not apply in a post-conviction context because Van Houten had been proven guilty and no longer has the same liberty interests as a free person.

In his filing with the appellate court, Pfeiffer argues that a Franklin hearing is essentially a subsequent sentencing hearing, in which all rights apply, including discovery.

Pfeiffer feels the tapes are further evidence of Manson’s control over the family and wants to use them to impeach statements made by former Manson family member Barbara Hoyt. In Van Houten’s 2013 parole hearing, Hoyt minimized Manson’s control when she stated that family members came and went on their own free will, while Van Houten chose to stay. Governor Jerry Brown relied heavily on Hoyt’s statements in his reversal of Van Houten’s 2016 parole grant.

According to Pfeiffer, Ryan’s ruling constituted a reversible error because Van Houten’s ability to contradict the reasons for the Governor’s reversal should require release of the tapes pursuant to basic fairness and due process under the fourteenth amendment.

Franklin hearings are new type of proceedings and have only existed for little over a year. In light of this, Pfeiffer conferred with other attorneys throughout the state regarding the issue of discovery and admissibility in them.

“At Franklin hearings, attorneys have stated that the most contested arguments related to what was discoverable and admissible,” wrote Pfeiffer. “A published opinion regarding this issue will greatly assist attorneys and superior courts in what efforts to pursue and in making appropriate rulings. “

The Board of Parole Hearings found Van Houten suitable for parole on September 6 and following a review period, Governor Brown will have until February 3, 2018 to weigh in on the decision.

Van Houten Denied Tex Tapes Again

Wednesday, October 11th, 2017

Oct. 11 – Judge William C. Ryan has denied a motion that asked him to reconsider his ruling on whether Leslie Van Houten could have access to the Tex Watson tapes.

Ryan has previously denied Van Houten access to the recordings twice before, most recently on September 12th, when he ruled she wasn’t entitled to discovery and that the tapes only contained information already well known.

On September 21, attorneys representing Van Houten filed a reconsideration motion, which Ryan denied on the 29th, stating that they had failed to show “new or different facts, circumstances, or law as to warrant a different result upon reconsideration.”

New Motion Filed for Tex Tapes

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Sept. 19 – Attorneys representing Leslie Van Houten are still pursuing disclosure of the Tex tapes, despite a ruling last week denying them access.

On September 12, Judge William Ryan denied Van Houten access to the recordings, reasoning that she wasn’t entitled to discovery and even if she was, the tapes only contained information already well known.

“Watson does talk about in several places how Charles Manson had a powerful influence over him and other members of the Manson family, but that information is also very well know, and to which Van Houten can testify,” wrote Ryan in his denial. “Releasing the transcript would therefore add nothing to the record that is not already well known.”

Yesterday, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, filed a motion to reconsider. In an eleven page brief, Pfeiffer, along with attorney Nancy Tetreault, reiterated the importance of the tapes, as well as Van Houten’s rights to access.

Pfeiffer feels the tapes are further evidence of Manson’s control over the family and wants to use them to impeach statements made by former Manson family member Barbara Hoyt. In Van Houten’s 2013 parole hearing, Hoyt minimized Manson’s control when she stated that family members came and went on their own free will, while Van Houten chose to stay. Governor Jerry Brown relied heavily on Hoyt’s statements in his reversal of Van Houten’s 2016 parole grant.

“When only one witness makes statements that contradict other statements relied upon by the Governor to reverse a grant of parole, the Governor can arguably rely on whichever statements he chooses,” Pfeiffer argues. “However, when multiple credible witnesses make the same statements that contradict a single witness, the Governor will have a difficult time relying on the statements of a single witness. That is what is at issue here. Ms. Van Houten and Hoyt’s statements contradict each other and the Governor chose to rely on Hoyt’s statements.”

Pfeiffer and Tetreault also delve into Van Houten’s rights to due process under the fourteenth amendment. The motion argues that the District Attorney’s withholding of the Tex tapes meets the criteria of Brady v. Maryland, which mandates the disclosure of evidence favorable to the accused, which is suppressed by the state, resulting in prejudice.

The Board of Parole Hearings found Van Houten suitable for parole on September 6 and following a review period, Governor Brown will have until February 3, 2018 to weigh in on the decision.

“All other factors in weighing Ms. Van Houten’s parole suitability are favorable,” argues Pfeiffer. “Therefore, any evidence that mitigates the commitment offense is essential. Denying access to that evidence is prejudicial.”

Court Denies Tex Tapes Release

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Sept. 13 – Judge William C. Ryan has denied Leslie Van Houten’s request that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office be ordered to turn over copies of the Tex Watson tapes.

Ryan concurred with Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz’s argument that Van Houten wasn’t entitled to the tapes because the penal code limits discovery to only cases with sentences of life without parole or death.

“But even if Van Houten was entitled to the Tex Watson Interview Tapes, they would add nothing not already well known,” wrote Ryan. “In the first 77 pages, there are eight references to a “Leslie,” all made in passing as to who was present at certain events.”

“The most substantive one is that the ‘Leslie’ was present at the LaBianca murders and stabbed Mrs. LaBianca,” continued Ryan.

“Watson does talk about in several places how Charles Manson had a powerful influence over him and other members of the Manson family, but that information is also very well know, and to which Van Houten can testify,” wrote Ryan. “Releasing the transcript would therefore add nothing to the record that is not already well know.”

Ryan’s ruling also disputed arguments made by the District Attorney’s office, that releasing the tapes would compromise ongoing investigations. According to Ryan, the LAPD detective in custody of the tapes told him that there are no investigations.

Leslie Van Houten Recommended for Parole Again

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

Sept. 6 – For the second time in as many years, a California parole board has found Leslie Van Houten suitable for parole. The decision was made earlier today, at Van Houten’s 21st parole hearing, held at the California Institute for Women in Corona.

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 was recommended for parole for the first time in April of 2016. On July 22, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the decision, stating, “I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Van Houten is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”

The decision will undergo a 120-day review by the Board of Parole Hearings. Then it will be reviewed by Brown, who will have until February 3, 2018 to either confirm, reverse or modify the parole grant.