Author Archives: cielodrive.com
Saturday, June 17th, 2017
Jun. 17 – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has asked Judge Sam Ohta to deny Leslie Van Houten a hearing in the Superior Court, meanwhile Van Houten’s attorney continues to doggedly pursue disclosure of the Tex Watson tapes.
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.
On May 4th, Judge Ohta ordered the District Attorney show cause as to why such a hearing shouldn’t be granted. Specifically, Ohta asked the District Attorney if Van Houten had previously had an adequate opportunity to create such a record; and if not, whether she is now entitled to make one now.
In a brief filed on June 1st, Deputy District Attorney Donna Lebowitz conceded that Van Houten did not have an opportunity to make such a record when her case was pending in the Superior Court, but did have ample time to prepare one for her April 14, 2016 parole hearing.
With the passage of a Senate Bill in October 2015, Van Houten became eligible for Youth Offender Parole, in which parole boards are instructed to put great weight on diminished culpability of juveniles and contrast it with any evidence of growth and maturity that has occurred since their commitment offense.
Lebowitz noted that Van Houten had 6 months to create a record to present the board, between the passage of the bill and her April 2016 parole hearing. Further, Lebowitz argued that at that parole hearing, Van Houten did submit onto the record, numerous factors in support of Youth Offender Parole. The factors included testimony about her family background, social history, adolescent development and juvenile criminal history; an interview with a forensic psychologist that discussed her childhood; and letters from people who knew Van Houten before the murders,
“It would be entirely redundant to allow [Van Houten] to duplicate in court, that which she has already presented to those making the ultimate decision on her parole suitability,” wrote Lebowitz.
Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer called Lebowitz’s argument disingenuous considering she was aware that Van Houten’s attorneys had sought the Tex Watson tapes continuously throughout the 18 months prior to the April 2016 hearing.
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.
Attorneys for Van Houten have sought copies of the tapes for nearly four years, but the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has refused to turn them over. A brief filed by Pfeiffer, chronicled efforts to obtain copies of the tapes dating all the way back to 2014.
In the Fall of 2014, Christie Webb, one of Ms. Van Houten’s attorneys, began calling the Los Angeles Police Department to determine whether they would be willing to participate in informal discovery with regard to audio tape(s) made by Charles “Tex” Watson made in or about 1969. On October 3, 2014, Ms. Webb spoke with someone in LAPD’s media relations who directed her to Greg Toyama, the supervisor of the Risk Management and Discovery Unit. Ms. Webb was then directed to the LAPD Detectives who were handling the audio tapes. Detective Dan Jenks directed Ms. Webb to the District Attorney’s office. Ms. Webb learned that LAPD had done a 40-page report about the content of the tapes.
On October 20, 2014, Ms. Webb spoke with John Morris, Head Deputy District Attorney, Parole Division. Ms. Webb informed Mr. Morris that she believed the tapes contained information about Ms. Van Houten that might be relevant to her parole suitability hearing. On December 10, 2014, Ms. Webb again spoke with Mr. Morris, who stated the “tape is in the possession of the LAPD,” and the police are “not inclined to participate in informal discovery.” Mr. Morris opined the tapes were not discoverable because there is “not any cross over” between the cases, meaning Ms. Van Houten’s case and Mr. Watson’s case. Mr. Morris stated he would check with the LAPD to see if Ms. Van Houten was mentioned in the tapes.
Ms. Webb again spoke with Mr. Morris on January 6, 2015, who agreed with the LAPD detectives that there was “no overlap” between the cases. Mr. Morris stated that Ms. Van Houten is “hardly mentioned at all” on the tapes. Most of the recording was Mr. Watson talking about his “drug upbringing” and “Manson’s control over him.” Therefore, the LAPD would not be participating in informal discovery of the tapes. Mr. Morris was informed that “control” exerted by Manson was a central issue in both cases, and that defense counsel would decide what to do about discovery of the audio tapes.
On March 26, 2015, Ms. Webb served a Deposition Subpoena for Production of Business Records to be served on the LAPD’s Custodian of Records-LAPD Discovery Unit. On March 31, 2015, Ms. Webb received an email in response to the service of the subpoena from Jess Gonzalez, Supervising Assistant City Attorney, Public Safety General Counsel Division, Police Discovery Section, who stated in the email that the District Attorney’s Office has placed a “hold” on the tapes and would not release them. Gonzalez suggested Ms. Webb contact the District Attorney’s Office.
Ms. Webb then wrote to Head Deputy John Morris in the District Attorney’s Office to confirm whether the “hold” on the tape(s) was still in place and if that was the position of both the District Attorney and LAPD. In response, Ms. Webb received a letter dated June 19, 2015, from Head Deputy John Morris. Mr. Morris stated that he had discussed Ms. Webb’s request for the tapes with LAPD Detective Jenks who was the investigating officer on the Manson Family Cases. The letter concluded: “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.”
On September 11, 2015, a petition for writ of mandate was filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. On October 27, 2015, the superior court denied the writ petition. On November 13, 2015, a petition for writ of mandate was filed in the Second Appellate District, Division One. The court of appeal summarily denied the writ petition on November 19, 2015.
On December 2, 2015, a petition for review was filed in the California Supreme Court, case number S230851. On December 3, 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the District Attorney file an answer to the petition for review. The Court requested the District Attorney to:
“Please address the merits of the petition for review. If respondent is of the view that it would assist the court in its consideration and disposition of the petition for review, respondent may lodge, conditionally and confidentially with the court, a copy of any audio tape recordings of interviews with Charles “Tex” Watson in the possession of the Los Angeles Police Department and/or the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, and any report made by the Los Angeles Police Department regarding the contents of the recordings.”
On December 21, 2016, the District Attorney filed the answer and basically argued that their position throughout the entire matter was that “Manson was in complete control of the ‘family’ who committed the murders at his behest.” The District Attorney argued that this position made the tapes cumulative, because it was the same position relied upon by all parties in the underlying trials. Additionally, the “People do not believe it is necessary for the Court to arduously labor through the 326 pages of rambling musings about LSD, secret worlds beneath Death Valley and bizarre racial theories.” On February 3, 2016, the Supreme Court denied review.
Pfeiffer rejected Lebowitz’s argument that a parole consideration hearing would be the appropriate venue to create a record in support of Youth Offender Parole. The District Attorney has previously asserted that there is no post-trial discovery process to assist an inmate to compel discovery at a parole suitability hearing. Without discovery, Van Houten has no way to subpoena the Tex Watson tapes. Pfeiffer noted that the District Attorney’s office has used his efforts against Van Houten. In the April 2016 hearing Lebowitz suggested Pfeiffer’s efforts to get the Tex Watson tapes was an example of Van Houten not taking responsibility for her crimes. When the Board of Parole Hearings recommended Van Houten for parole, District Attorney Jackie Lacey wrote Governor Jerry Brown. Lacey was critical of a letter of support Van Houten received from a psychologist that she was getting therapy from. Lacey argued that Van Houten was attempting to manipulate the parole board by submitting a psychological assessment of insight by a private clinician.
“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. “Due to the past conduct and allegations made by Jackie Lacey, Ms. Van Houten cannot even submit an expert’s report that deals with the science of a youthful offender parole hearing. A Franklin hearing is the only safe way to make such a record.”
Lebowitz also argued Van Houten in not entitled to a hearing pursuant to People V. Franklin because Van Houten’s case is distinguishable from Franklin’s.
In 2011, 16 year-old Tyris Lamar Franklin, shot and killed Gene Deshawn Grisby-Bell, also 16, after Bell had reportedly gotten into an altercation with Franklin’s younger brother. Franklin was subsequently convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to two consecutive 25 year-to-life terms. The California Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, but ruled that Franklin did not have adequate opportunity to create a record of factors of youth. The case was sent back to the Superior Court where Franklin would be allowed to present mitigating evidence in support of his future youth offender parole hearings.
In opposition to Van Houten’s request for a similar hearing, Lebowitz noted differences between the two cases. Franklin would not be eligible for parole for 25 years, whereas Van Houten had not only been eligible for decades, she has already had several parole hearings. The motivation for the Franklin ruling was that the court felt compiling an accurate record of characteristics and circumstances of a juvenile offender would be best done at the time of the offense.
“[In Van Houten’s case], not only have more than four decades passed, but, memories have faded, and family members have, in fact, passed away,” wrote Lebowitz. “The rationale behind Franklin is completely inapplicable to this case.”
Pfeiffer feels Lebowitz’s argument in opposition of a Franklin hearing, only bolsters Van Houten’s need for the Tex Watson tapes.
“In applying that rational[sic] to this case, the tapes were made at the time of the offense, and were not influenced by any outside source,” argued Pfeiffer. “Memories have faded away and witnesses have relocated and/or passed away. Justice is fortunate to have the tapes to make this record.”
Wednesday, May 10th, 2017
May 10 – Debra Tate, the outspoken adversary of the Manson family, has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
After losing her mother Doris to brain cancer in 1992 and her sister Patti to breast cancer in 2000 – both victims’ rights advocates – Debra dedicated her life to continuing her family’s legacy. Over the past two decades, Debra has become a staple at Manson family parole hearings, relentlessly opposing their release.
Last year, Tate launched online petitions on her website noparoleformansonfamily.com, collecting nearly half a million signatures opposing parole for Manson family members.
A gofundme page to help with Tate’s medical bills has set up by her friend, Jillian Barberie.
Friday, May 5th, 2017
May. 5 – A Los Angeles County Judge, yesterday ordered the District Attorney’s office to show cause why Leslie Van Houten shouldn’t be allowed a hearing in the Superior Court to create a record, documenting evidence of her immaturity at the time of the LaBianca murders.
A series of high court decisions over the past decade have highlighted the psychological differences between juveniles and adults, leading to several changes on how the two groups are handled, in terms of sentencing and parole. The courts have acknowledged that juveniles lack maturity and have an underdeveloped sense of responsibility, leading them to implusivity and reckless behavior. Juveniles are more vulnerable to negative outside influences and also lack strong character traits, therefore their actions are less indicative of who they are, or will become, later in life.
In response to this, California adapted youthful offender parole hearings with the passage of a senate bill in 2013. Inmates whose commitment offense occurred before the age of 18 and had served 15 to 25 years of their sentence, would be given parole hearings in which the board would have to put great weight on diminished culpability of juveniles and contrast it to any evidence of growth and maturity that has occurred since.
In October of 2015, the youthful offender parole program was expanded to inmates that had committed their crime before the age of 23, thus making Van Houten eligible.
In January, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer requested a hearing to be held in Los Angeles County Superior Court, pursuant to People V. Franklin. The purpose of the Franklin hearing is to establish a record of mitigating evidence of Van Houten’s youth at the time of the offense. This record will assist the Board of Parole Hearings, 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.
Pfeiffer has submitted to the court a recent psychological evaluation of Van Houten and he has indicated he plans to subpoena the Tex Watson tapes.
The Watson tapes are the earliest known documented account of the Tate-LaBianca murders. Recorded before any codefendant account had been made public, the Watson tapes provide an uninfluenced look into the two nights of murder which he led. Watson’s account, more than any other account to date, can provide the greatest clarity on the murders and months leading up to them. The tapes will also provide insight into the influence on Van Houten, both at Spahn Ranch and at the LaBianca residence during the murders.
On Monday, Pfeiffer filed a motion with the Board of Parole Hearings to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office from participating in Van Houten’s upcoming parole hearing in September. The motion, charges that the office holds a bias against his client and is unable to exercise its function in an evenhanded manner. The motion largely focused on the District Attorney’s refusal to turn over the Tex Watson tapes despite the office conceding the tapes were exculpatory.
If the District Attorney refuses to turn the tapes over for the Franklin hearing, Pfeiffer has indicated he will file a motion to exclude their office from it as well.
Yesterday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Sam Ohta gave the District Attorney’s office 30 days to respond as to why Van Houten’s request for a Franklin hearing should not be granted, and whether or not, she has already had adequate opportunity to make such a record.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
May. 1 – Leslie Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, has filed a motion to disqualify the entire Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office from participating in Van Houten’s upcoming parole hearing, charging that the office is biased against his client and unable to exercise its function in an evenhanded manner.
According to Pfeiffer, the entire office has worked as a whole to mislead the California Supreme Court, the Board of Parole Hearings and the Governor, and that Jackie Lacey’s involvement has been direct. In the 11-page filing, Pfeiffer states that the District Attorney’s Office continues to withhold exculpatory evidence, in the the Tex Watson tapes and that the office misrepresents facts related to his client because of the existence of a conflict of interest.
Pfeffer has requested the District Attorney’s Office be disqualified and the hearing be handled by the Attorney General. “The [District Attorney’s] Office has an unfair advantage of knowing the contents of the tapes that is has conceded are exculpatory,” wrote Pfeiffer.
In a separate filing, Pfeiffer has requested members of Leno LaBianca’s extended family, as well as Debra Tate, also be disqualified from taking part in the hearing. Leno LaBianca’s nieces and nephews have regularly attended Van Houten’s hearings for nearly two decades now. But according to Pfeiffer, nieces and nephews do not qualify as next-of-kin and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to take part in the hearing.
Van Houten’s parole hearing is currently scheduled for Wednesday, September 6th.
Wednesday, February 1st, 2017
Bruce Davis Parole Transcripts
Feb. 1 – For the fifth time in seven years, a California parole board has found Bruce Davis suitable for release. The decision was made earlier today, at Davis’ 31st parole hearing, held at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.
The parole board’s decision will undergo a 120-day review, after which Governor Jerry Brown will have 30 days to reverse, modify, affirm or decline to review the decision.
Davis, 74, serving a life term for his role in the 1969 murders of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea, has previously been recommended for parole in the past four consecutive hearings, but has seen all four of those recommendations reversed by the Governor’s office during the executive review process.
Davis turned himself in outside of the Hall of Justice on December 7, 1970, after evading capture for nearly a year. Davis’ trial began in late 1971 and lasted four months. On March 14, 1972, Davis was convicting on two counts of First Degree Murder and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Murder and Robbery. Judge Raymond Choate sentenced Davis to a life term the following month.
“These were vicious murders indicating a depraved state of mind on the part of the defendant,” said Choate during sentencing. “I don’t want to give the impression that he was at all a dupe or the foil of Charles Manson. Davis is much older than most of the youngsters that were led by Manson. He is more intelligent and educated and more capable of independent reasoning. For reasons only known to him, he did not exercise that reasoning.”
Davis has only two rules infractions in over four decades of incarceration, the last one occurring over 37 years ago. He received a write-up in 1975 for sharpening a spoon and one for conduct in 1980. Davis has received a Master’s degree from Borean School of the Bible and a Doctorate degree in philosophy and religion from Bethany Seminary, graduating summa cum laude. While incarcerated Davis has married and fathered a child. His marriage has since ended in divorce.
“Bruce is the single most rehabilitated inmate I’ve represented in the California prison system,” wrote attorney Michael Beckman, who has represented Davis since 2000.
After receiving 23 consecutive one-year denials, Bruce Davis was recommended for parole for the first time on January 28, 2010. The decision, however, was reversed in June of 2012 by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who wrote, “I believe his release would pose an unreasonable risk of danger to society at this time.”
In preparation for Davis’ 2012 hearing, the first hearing since Davis’ initial recommendation, the District Attorney’s office did two things. Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequeira actively sought out next-of-kin from the Hinman and Shea families, who thus far had never attended any of Davis’ hearings. Sequeira wanted to notify the families of the upcoming hearing, perhaps hopeful they would provide impact statements to appeal to the board.
Sequeira also began pressing to acquire the 1969 tape-recorded statements made by Charles “Tex” Watson with his Texas attorney, Bill Boyd. Publicly, the Los Angeles Police Department sought the recordings for possible clues for unsolved crimes. But within the District Attorney’s office, where efforts to acquire the tapes had originated, Sequeira was hopeful that the tapes could provide material for him to use at Davis’ upcoming parole hearing.
Sequeira was unable to get the tapes in time for the hearing, but managed to secure statements from relatives of Gary Hinman and Donald Shea. Kay Martley, Gary Hinman’s cousin and Phyllis Shea Murphy, Donald Shea’s first wife, submitted impact statements. Neither Martley nor Murphy attended the hearing, but their statements were read to the parole board by Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra Tate and former Manson family member, Barbara Hoyt.
Despite their efforts, Davis was recommended for parole for the second time. After the decision passed its initial review, newly appointed District Attorney, Jackie Lacey, pleaded with California Governor Jerry Brown to reverse the decision.
“Davis has been diagnosed with narcissistic and antisocial personality traits. He consistently blames everyone but himself for his criminal and antisocial behavior,” wrote Lacey. “It is evident that Davis lacks insight, genuine remorse and understanding of the gravity of his crimes.”
On March 1, 2013, Governor Brown reversed the parole board’s decision stating Davis was still unsuitable for release into society because of the heinous nature of the crimes. Brown’s reversal highlighted areas where, over the years, he felt Davis had minimized his role in both the Manson family and their crimes. The governor also questioned how truthful Davis had been, stating as an example, that Davis hadn’t mentioned Larry Jones being present during the Shea murder until his 2010 parole hearing.
“Davis’s choice to withhold information regarding the crimes and the identity of a potential crime partner indicates to me that his commitment to the Manson Family still exceeds his commitment to the community,” wrote Brown.
Davis came up for parole again in March of 2014 and this time Kay Martley attended the hearing in person. It was the first time a family member of one of Davis’ victims had attended one of his hearings. The board commended Davis on his institutional programming and once again found him suitable. Five months later, on the weekend of the 45th anniversary of the Tate-LaBianca murders, Governor Brown once again reversed Davis’ parole grant.
“I asked Davis to explain why he has shielded other Family members from prosecution by withholding information about these crimes, and to finally reveal what he knows,” Brown wrote in his reversal decision. “I asked him to reconcile his version of being a follower with the evidence that he was a leader who actively championed the Family’s values. He did not address these concerns at his most recent parole hearing. For the same reasons I articulated last year, I find that Davis is not suitable for parole.”
Davis came before the board again in August of 2015 and for the second consecutive hearing, so did Kay Martley.
“Although it has been 46 years since Gary was murdered, the passing of time has not diminished the impact of this horrendous crime and our family continues to serve a life sentence of heartbreak, grief, and loss,” Martley told the board. “I’m here today to respectfully ask the Board to require Mr. Davis to serve a sentence that is no less than the one my family is now serving, a term of life.”
Despite this plea, the parole board found Davis suitable for release and again his fate went onto the Governor’s desk where months later the decision was overturned.
“The horror of the murders committed by the Manson family in 1969 and the fear they instilled in the public will never be forgotten,” wrote Brown when reversing Davis’ parole recommendation in January of 2016. “I have reversed grants of parole to Davis twice before, not only because of his atrocious crimes, but also because he minimized the nature and extent of his responsibility for these murders and his role in the Manson family.”
The District Attorney’s office view Davis as an unreasonable risk to society while Beckman sees him as a reformed man that has become a political prisoner because of his link to Manson. There’s little reason to believe anything will be different this time around.
It’s been nearly four years since the District Attorney’s office took possession of the Tex Watson tapes. Despite their eagerness to get them to use at parole hearings, to date, they never have.
“If they contained anything negative about Bruce,” wrote Beckman, “you can be certain the DA would have trotted it in as soon as the tapes became available.”
Governor Brown will have until July 1st to weigh in on the decision.