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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.”
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.
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.
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.