Yearly Archives: 2017
Thursday, August 31st, 2017
Aug. 31 – Judge William C. Ryan will need more time before deciding whether to order the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to turn over copies of the Tex tapes to Leslie Van Houten’s attorney Richard Pfeiffer.
At a hearing held today at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center, Ryan said he had only read about 85 pages of the transcript and that he will make a decision after he finishes it, possibly in the next few days.
Attorneys for Van Houten have sought copies of the tapes for nearly four years, believing they contained information relevant to Leslie’s parole suitability.
In January, Van Houten filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to People v. Franklin, contending she was entitled an opportunity to create a record of mitigating evidence in support of youth offender parole. After a series of briefs from Pfeiffer and Lebowitz, Judge Sam Ohta ruled in Van Houten’s favor, granting her the hearing.
Two weeks ago, Ohta heard arguments from Pfeiffer and Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz at a motion hearing. Ohta requested both parties file discovery briefs.
In her brief, Lebowitz argued 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. Further, she argued that discovery would be limited to materials that Van Houten would’ve been entitled to at the time of trial.
“Here, the material sought consists of statements then protected by an attorney / client privilege,” wrote Lebowitz. “The material sought consists of tape recorded conversations between fellow Manson Family member, Charles “Tex” Watson and his retained attorney, in 1969, while awaiting extradition from Texas, to stand trial in California for the murders at the Tate and LaBianca residences. Petitioner would never have been entitled to such statements at the time of trial. As a result, she is not presently entitled to them under the law.”
However, the Tex Watson tapes were not protected by an attorney – client privilege when Van Houten was tried in 1978. According to records, Watson waived his attorney-client privilege in September of 1976, two years earlier.
Today’s hearing also featured testimony from former Manson family member, Catherine Share, who met Van Houten in San Francisco in the summer of 1968 and encouraged her to come to Spahn Ranch.
Dr. Elizabeth Cauffman was called as an expert witness and testified how Van Houten’s youthful features related to her commitment offense.
Although much of today’s headlines focused on Share’s testimony, the biggest news coming out of today’s hearing was that LAPD Homicide Detective Dan Jenks told Judge Ryan that there wasn’t any ongoing investigations involving the Tex tapes. This is contrary to what the LAPD and District Attorney’s office have been telling people, including Van Houten’s attorneys, for years.
In 2015, Head Deputy District Attorney John Morris wrote Van Houten’s attorney Christie Webb, stating:
“The District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office all agree that we cannot provide the tape(s) you have requested because there are unsolved crimes Manson Family members are suspected of committing. The information contained in the tape(s) are part of the investigation of those crimes and could be used to solve them. Releasing the tape(s) could endanger the investigation those (sic) crimes.”
Pfeiffer plans to use the record of today’s hearing to bolster Van Houten’s chances of parole. Van Houten is scheduled to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings on September 6th.
Friday, August 18th, 2017
Aug. 18 – Judge Sam Ohta will issue a ruling on August 31st, whether to order the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to turn over copies of the Tex tapes to Leslie Van Houten’s attorney Richard Pfeiffer.
Ohta heard arguments from Pfeiffer and Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz at a motion hearing today at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. The motion hearing was a prelude to the Franklin hearing originally slotted for next week but delayed until the 31st to allow more time for discovery briefs to be filed.
Attorneys for Van Houten have sought the Tex tapes for nearly four years and argue that tapes contain information relevant to the Franklin hearing.
Some former Manson family members are also expected to testify at the hearing.
In January, Van Houten filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to People v. Franklin, contending she was entitled an opportunity to create a record of mitigating evidence in support of youth offender parole. After a series of briefs from Pfeiffer and Lebowitz, Ohta ruled in Van Houten’s favor, granting her the hearing.
Van Houten is also scheduled to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings on September 6th.
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017
Aug. 2 – A Superior Court judge has granted Leslie Van Houten a hearing to create a record of mitigating evidence in support of youth offender parole. The record will assist the Board of Parole Hearings, the Governor’s office and the Courts, by giving them a formal profile of Van Houten’s state of mind when she was involved with the Manson family.
The hearing, which is pursuant to People V. Franklin, will be held on August 24th at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles District Attorney’s office urged Judge Sam Ohta to deny Van Houten the hearing, calling it redundant and arguing that she could make such a record in her parole hearings.
However, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer was adamant that a Franklin hearing would be the only way Van Houten can present this evidence without the District Attorney using it against her.
Van Houten is also scheduled to appear before the Board of Parole Hearings on September 6th.
Thursday, July 6th, 2017
Jul. 6 – The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office has accused Leslie Van Houten’s attorney of attempting to mislead the court and has once again asked that a hearing for Van Houten be denied.
In January, Van Houten filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to People v. Franklin, contending she is entitled an opportunity to establish a record of mitigating evidence of her characteristics and circumstances at the time of the murders.
In a brief dated June 6, Van Houten’s attorney Rich Pfeiffer provided the court a detailed history of unsuccessful attempts made by himself and another attorney representing Van Houten, to get the District Attorney to turn over copies of the Tex Watson tapes. The tapes, which were produced contemporaneous to the crime, would provide unique insight relevant to issues at hand at the Franklin hearing.
“A Franklin hearing is the only way Ms. Van Houten can compel discovery so the parole board and the Governor will have all of the relevant information to use in making their important decisions in this case,” wrote Pfeiffer.
“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” wrote Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz, in a brief filed on June 27. “There is no language in Franklin, supra, that authorizes a court to compel discovery. On the contrary, Franklin allows a defendant, who qualifies as a youthful offender, to present evidence that is in the defendant’s current lawful possession.”
According to Pfeiffer, a Franklin hearing is akin to a sentencing hearing and both parties are entitled to due process that includes discovery.
“In this case, two important pieces of evidence that cannot be presented at a parole hearing that directly relate to Ms. Van Houten’s youth-related factors are Dr. Laurence Steinberg’s psychological evaluation that described the research over the past 10 years regarding the adolescent development for legal decisions about the behavior of young people, and the Tex Watson tapes,” wrote Pfeiffer.
According to Lebowitz, Pfeiffer is attempting to mislead the court, stating that the request for a Franklin hearing is nothing more than last ditch effort to obtain the Tex Watson tapes.
“Every court in this state, including the California Supreme Court, has denied Petitioner’s request to compel production of this item,” argued Lebowitz. “Administrative bodies including the State Bar and the Board of Prison Hearings have also denied Petitioner’s request to compel production of this item. Petitioner simply has no lawful right to obtain the item.”
In response, Pfeiffer noted that previous denials did not produce any published authority that could be cited to prohibit discovery.
“While the People argued that other courts have not ordered that the tapes be disclosed to the defense, none of those courts ruled that disclosure was improper,” argued Pfeiffer. “The courts only indicated there was no authority requiring discovery at a parole hearing.”
“Regarding the People’s allegation that Ms. Van Houten’s attorney attempted to mislead this Court by using a Franklin hearing writ to obtain the Tex Watson tapes, those prior attempts were disclosed to this Court,” wrote Pfeiffer. “There has been no deception, there is nothing to hide. However, there is a questionable ethical violation in knowingly possessing exculpatory or mitigating evidence, failing to disclose it, and then arguing inconsistent things to the Supreme Court, Board of Parole Hearings, and to the Governor.”
Authorities in Los Angeles law enforcement have been consistently inconsistent in regard to the tapes.
The Tex Watson tapes are the earliest known documented account of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Recorded before any codefendant account had been made public, the tapes provide an uninfluenced look into the two nights of murder which Watson led. The tapes consist of conversations Charles “Tex” Watson had with this Texas attorney, Bill Boyd. Watson waived his attorney-client privilege in order to have Boyd sell copies of the recordings in 1976 to Chaplin Ray Hoekstra, who was authoring a book on Watson.
In 2008, Boyd discussed having the tapes in an interview with writer Tom O’Neill. The following year, Boyd died suddenly after suffering a heart attack. Within months, his law firm went into bankruptcy.
The District Attorney’s office found out about the tapes in 2011, when O’Neill told Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira that he had been trying to acquire copies from Linda Payne, a bankruptcy trustee who possessed the recordings. O’Neill, through the help of an attorney, tried to convince Payne that privilege no longer existed. Going through two boxes of legal records Boyd had related to Watson’s case, Payne found Watson’s contract with Boyd, as well as the 1976 attorney-client privilege waiver signed by Watson when Boyd to turned over copies to Hoekstra.
Payne contacted Sequeria in March of 2012 and informed him that she would turn over the recordings to Los Angeles authorities. Watson fought the release for nearly a year but ultimately lost due to the contract and waiver. The Los Angeles Police Department took possession of the tapes in the spring of 2013.
Initially, the District Attorney’s office claimed they needed the tapes for use in parole hearings, but to date, have never done so. The Los Angeles Police Department claimed they needed the tapes to investigate a dozen or so cold cases on their books. However, a sealed warrant issued for the tapes in Texas revealed nothing but a fishing expedition, with no nexus to any case in Los Angeles County. When attorneys representing Van Houten began asking for copies, they were told the tapes were a part of open investigation. However, in multiple filings in multiple courts, the District Attorney has never told any court that the tapes were involved in an investigation. In May of 2016, Bill Hayes, Captain of LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, told the Los Angeles Times, there was nothing on the tapes they didn’t already know.
To date, the District Attorney’s office and LAPD continue to object to disclosure of the tapes. The Cold Case Homicide Unit within the Robbery Homicide Division feel releasing the tapes could jeopardize future investigations and prosecutions. They argue that information contained on the tapes that may appear to be innocuous now, could prove significant, if other information develops. These positions conflict with previous actions by the LAPD and the District Attorney’s office. In April of 2012, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and then District Attorney Steve Cooley both signed an agreement to waive all exemptions and disclose all of the evidence and materials related to the investigation and prosecution of Charles Manson, et al, to the Los Angeles Police Historical Society, a non-profit with no government backing. Accordingly, essentially all of the original case files are no longer confidential.
It remains a mystery why the District Attorney is so resistant to disclosing the tapes. According to what they told the California Supreme Court in December of 2015, the tapes are aligned with the case they put forth during the 1970’s trials.
During Van Houten’s April 2016 parole hearing, Lebowitz was highly critical of Van Houten’s efforts to get the tapes, telling the board that it was an example of her minimizing her involvement in the crime. But when Charles Watson had a parole hearing in October, Lebowitz didn’t even mention the tapes, even though Watson had fought their release for nearly a year.
Lebowitz claims Pfeiffer is abusing the court process by disguising the true intent of his request for a Franklin hearing. But Pfeiffer is adamant that a Franklin hearing is the only way Van Houten can present evidence in support of youth offender parole without the District Attorney using it against her. Pfeiffer wants an opportunity to present this evidence and have ability to cross examine witnesses under oath, something he cannot accomplish in a parole hearing.
Friday, June 23rd, 2017
Bruce Davis Parole Transcripts
PRESS RELEASE FROM GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN, AGAIN DENYING PAROLE FOR FORMER MANSON FAMILY MEMBER BRUCE DAVIS
Jun. 23 – Bruce Davis was a member of Charles Manson’s cult known as “the Family.” In the summer of 1969, the twenty-member Family lived on the Spahn Ranch and fervently embraced Manson’s apocalyptic and warped worldview. Manson believed that a civilization-ending war between the races — known as Helter Skelter — was imminent, and that the Family would emerge from hiding in the desert at the end of the war to take control of the world. Manson came to believe that the Family would have to trigger the start of the race war by committing atrocious, high-profile murders of white victims to incite retaliatory violence against blacks. See People v. Manson (1976) 61 Cal.App.3d 102, 127-30. According to former member Barbara Hoyt, preparing for Helter Skelter physically, mentally, and financially was the all-pervasive fabric of the Manson Family’s daily life.
In July 1969, Manson spoke with a group of Family members, including Davis, about the need to raise money and supplies to relocate to the desert. Gary Alan Hinman, an aspiring musician known to the Family, was discussed as a possible source of funds. On July 26, 1969, Davis was seen in the company of Manson and Robert Beausoleil. Beausoleil was wearing a sheathed knife, and Davis was holding a 9-millimeter Radom gun he had purchased under a false name. That night, Davis drove Family members Mary Brunner, Susan Atkins, and Robert Beausoleil to Mr. Hinman’s residence and then returned to the Ranch by himself Two days later, Manson received a telephone call indicating that Mr. Hinman “was not cooperating.”
Manson and Davis returned to Mr. Hinman’s house. When they arrived, Mr. Hinman had already been struck with a gun in a struggle in which the gun had discharged. Davis took the gun away from Beausoleil and pointed it at Mr. Hinman while Manson sliced Mr. Hinman’s face open with a sword, cutting from his left ear down to his chin. Mr. Hinman was bandaged and put into bed, slipping in and out of consciousness. Davis and Manson drove back to the Ranch in Mr. Hinman’s Fiat station wagon. Brunner, Atkins, and Beausoleil remained at Mr. Hinman’s house for two more days while Mr. Hinman lay bleeding. Beausoleil eventually stabbed Mr. Hinman in the chest and smothered him with a pillow. Mr. Hinman’s badly decomposed body was found on July 31, 1969. Inside the home, the words “political piggy” and an animal paw print were drawn on the walls with Mr. Hinman’s blood.
On August 9 and 10, 1969, several Family members participated in the gruesome murders of Sharon Tate, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, and four other victims. See generally People v. Manson, supra, 61 Cal.App.3d 102. Davis did not participate in and was not charged with these crimes. Davis admits he found out about the Tate-LaBianca murders the next day.
Donald “Shorty” Shea was a stuntman and ranch hand at the Spahn Ranch. Manson Family members believed Mr. Shea was a police informant. In late August 1969, Manson and his followers discussed plans to kill Mr. Shea. Manson, in the presence of several members, including Davis, told them they were going to kill Mr. Shea because he believed that Mr. Shea was a “snitch.”
Around the evening of August 27, 1969, Mr. Shea asked longtime friend, Ruby Pearl, if he could stay at Mrs. Pearl’s home. Mr. Shea was very nervous and kept looking around, saying, “It gives me the creeps to stay here.” Mrs. Pearl had no place for Mr. Shea to stay. As she drove away, she saw a car pull up and several Manson members emerge from the car. She saw Davis, Manson, Charles “Tex” Watson, and Steven “Clem” Grogan approach and surround Mr. Shea. She left the area and never saw Mr. Shea again.
The following day, the Manson Family left the Spahn Ranch and went to the desert. According to trial testimony from Barbara Hoyt, Manson recounted the details of the Shea murder to a group of members. Manson said that “they had killed Shorty [Shea]” and “they cut him up in nine pieces.” Manson described how they had taken Mr. Shea for a ride, hit him in the head with a pipe, and then stabbed him repeatedly. Manson also related that Mr. Shea was “real hard” to kill until they “brought him to ‘now.”‘ (The term “now” to the Manson Family meant absence of thought.) Davis, agreeing with Manson’s description of the murder, stated: “Yeah, when we brought him to now, Clem cut his head off,” adding, “That was far out.” As Manson described the murder, Davis nodded his head and smiled several times. See People v. Manson (1977) 71 Cal.App.3d 1, 21-22. Davis later bragged to one Family member, Alan Springer, that they had ways of taking care of “snitchers” and had already taken care of one. Davis told Springer, “We cut his arms, legs and head off and buried him on the ranch.”
Davis was arrested on December 7, 1970, after evading capture for over a year. He was convicted of two counts of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder and robbery.
The question I must answer is whether Davis will pose a current danger to the public if released from prison. The circumstances of the crime can provide evidence of current dangerousness when the record also establishes that something in the inmate’s pre- or post-incarceration history, or the inmate’s current demeanor and mental state, indicate that the circumstances of the crime remain probative of current dangerousness. (In re Lawrence (2008) 44 Cal. 4th 1181, 1214.) In rare circumstances, the aggravated nature of the crime alone can provide a valid basis for denying parole even when there is strong evidence of rehabilitation and no other evidence of current dangerousness. (Id. at pp. 1211, 1214.)
The Board of Parole Hearings found Davis suitable for parole based on his lack of violent juvenile history, his few rules violations in prison, his participation in self-help programs, his risk rating, his age, his educational achievements, and his work ratings.
I acknowledge that Davis is now 74 years old and has been incarcerated for 46 years. He has not been disciplined for any misconduct for 25 years, and he has made efforts to improve himself while incarcerated. Davis has earned several vocational certifications, a master’s degree, and a doctorate degree. He regularly receives positive work ratings and he has continued to participate in self-help programs including Alcoholics Anonymous, Denial Management, and Victim Awareness. I commend Davis for taking these positive steps. But they are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole.
Bruce Davis and the Manson Family committed some of the most notorious and brutal killings in California’s history. With the perverse goal of starting a race war, Davis and other members of the Manson Family robbed, tortured, and killed numerous victims in Southern California in 1969. Davis himself participated in two of these calculated murders. He drove others to Gary Hinman’s house so they could rob him to finance their apocalyptic scheme. Davis returned to the scene two days later and held Mr. Hinman at gunpoint while Manson sliced his face open with a sword. Davis left Mr. Hinman in the hands of his fellow cult members, who extorted Mr. Hinman and allowed him bleed profusely before ultimately stabbing and strangling him to death. In the coming days, other Manson Family members committed the gruesome Tate and LaBianca murders, leaving behind bloody political messages in an attempt to prompt “social chaos.” Davis, Manson, and others later beat and stabbed Donald Shea to death, buried his body, and bragged about dismembering him. These cult murders have left an indelible mark on the public — the Manson Family is still feared to this day. Incredibly heinous and cruel offenses like these constitute the “rare circumstances” in which the crime alone can justify a denial of parole.
And these crimes aren’t the only evidence that Davis should not be released from prison — his continued minimization of his own violence and his role in the Manson Family further shows that he remains an unreasonable risk to the public. As I discussed in my previous decisions reversing Davis’s grants of parole, Davis has long downplayed his role in these murders and in the Manson Family. Although the Board granted him parole again in February 2017, he has done little to address my concerns.
Davis’s claim that he was a reluctant participant in these murders and the Manson Family is completely unconvincing. Davis told the psychologist who evaluated him in 2016 that while he “went very willingly in the Hinman case,” he became afraid when he saw Manson cut Mr. Hinman’s face and decided “I’m out of here…I made a decision, hey, I’m gone.” He said that he didn’t participate in the Family’s “creepy crawling” excursions because he was too scared. Davis continued, “But, with the Shea thing, I’m standing there, I’m like what am I gonna do? I would’ve liked to opt out, but what was I going to do?” He explained that he that he had “adopted Charlie [Manson] as my dad” and couldn’t leave the Family because he felt connected to Manson. At his 2017 parole hearing, Davis said that he “wanted to be a leader” of the Manson Family and “wanted to be Charlie’s favorite guy.” He claimed that he didn’t buy into Manson’s “silly” plan to provoke a revolution, but that he agreed with whatever Manson said because he was afraid of Manson’s “disapproval.” Davis explained, “I had convinced myself that if I don’t get directly involved…in anything that’s — that they’re doing wrong, then I’ll be all right.” When asked why he carved a swastika into his forehead in jail after his arrest, Davis responded, “It was just part of goin’ along…part of what they were doing.” These statements severely understate Davis’s active participation in these murders and the Manson Family. The 2016 psychologist concluded that Davis maintained “some ongoing blame toward others” and characterized himself as an unwilling participant in these crimes. The psychologist opined that “when it came to discussing the actual violence he engaged in, [Davis’s] insight was limited and he tended to deflect responsibility.” The psychologist continued, “[T]here is a dearth of deeper explanation of why he personally was willing to enact such violence and continue associating with people who executed such a plethora of additional violence.”
Davis’s statements show that he still has not come to terms with his central role in these murders and in the Manson Family. He was far from an unwilling participant. By his own account, Davis idolized an extremely violent cult leader — he wanted to be Manson’s favorite, did whatever Manson said, and wanted to help Manson lead the group — and actively participated in these two murders as a result. Although Davis tries to distinguish between himself and the other Family members by saying that he was simply associating with them to get drugs and girls, the fact is that he continued his active involvement with the Family even after witnessing firsthand the violent manifestation of their perverse ideology. Davis knew when he drove Manson and others to Mr. Hinman’s home that they planned to rob and kill him. Davis was aware of the stakes when he held Mr. Hinman at gunpoint and watched Manson cut into him with a sword. And Davis didn’t just happen to find himself present at Mr. Shea’s murder — he discussed it in advance with Manson and then helped stab Mr. Shea to death. Davis’s commitment to the Family continued well after his participation in these murders. He evaded capture for more than a year and ultimately branded himself with a swastika in jail along with the other Manson Family members. Davis’s portrayal of himself as a disinterested follower is belied by his repeated violent actions and his continued dedication to the Manson Family.
I am also disturbed by Davis’s apparent lack of remorse for his participation in these heinous murders. During his hearing, the Board questioned Davis’s remorse and empathy, observing, “[Y]ou say the right words, but do you really feel it? That didn’t really come out today.” The presiding commissioner reported that Davis was “smirking smugly” and smiled as he discussed the crimes. She explained, “It’s like you’re reminiscing about it…that’s why it’s disturbing.” The 2016 psychologist also had concerns about Davis’s “possible ongoing callousness, lack of empathy (especially for the victims’ families) poor judgment, and lack of remorse to an extent.” It is difficult to understand how someone could commit these extreme crimes and still, after more than four decades in prison and 32 parole hearings, show anything but profound regret and remorse. Davis’s demeanor demonstrates a chilling disregard for his victims and the families who mourn them, and the magnitude of his crimes.
I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Bruce Davis is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that he currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison. Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole Bruce Davis.
Decision Date: June 23, 2017
EDMUND G. BROWN JR.
Governor, State of California