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