Jan. 30 – Leslie Van Houten was found suitable for parole at a hearing held today at the California Institute for Women in Corona, California. This was Van Houten’s third parole suitability recommendation.
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 during the trial.
Van Houten was retried in 1977, resulting in a hung jury. She was retried the following year and that time, convicted and sentenced to seven years to life. Because of time served on her original sentence, Van Houten was already eligible for parole when she returned to prison in August of 1978.
She has been denied parole 19 times since becoming eligible for parole in 1978. She was recommended for parole for the first time in April of 2016. On July 22, 2016, then 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.”
She was recommended for parole a second time in September of 2017. Once again, Brown overturned the decision citing the heinousness of the commitment offense.
In January of last year, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, filed a writ of Habeas Corpus challenging Brown’s reversal, arguing the decision relied on isolated negative factors to support the conclusion that Van Houten posed an unreasonable risk if released. That June, Brown’s reversal was upheld by the Superior Court.
“The Governor met all due process requirements, and considered all relevant statutory factors tending to show suitability, including positive psychological reports,” wrote Judge William Ryan. “This court is not entitled to reweigh the evidence before the Governor; rather it is tasked with determining whether the record contains some evidence in support of the Governor’s decision. This court finds that it does, and that there is a rational nexus between the evidence in the record and the Governor’s determination of [Van Houten’s] current dangerousness.”
Pfeiffer challenged the ruling in California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal, who have yet to rule on it.
Today’s decision will undergo a 120-day review by the Board of Parole Hearings. Then it will be reviewed by Governor Gavin Newsom, who will have until June 29th to either confirm, reverse or modify the parole grant.