GOVERNOR NEWSOM’S RULING ON BRUCE DAVIS’ PAROLE RECOMMENDATION
Jun. 18 – In the late 1960’s, Bruce Davis was a member of Charles Manson’s cult known as “the Family,” who lived together at Spahn Ranch. In July 1969, Mr. Manson and a group of Family members, including Mr. Davis, discussed ways to raise money to relocate their group to the desert. They identified an acquaintance, Gary Hinman, as a potential source of funds. On July 26, 1969, Mr. Davis dropped off three Family members at Mr. Hinman’s residence. Two days later, the group called Mr. Manson from Mr. Hinman’s house and reported that Mr. Hinman was not cooperating. Mr. Manson and Mr. Davis returned to Mr. Hinman’s house. When they arrived, Mr. Hinman had already been struck with a gun; during that struggle, the gun had discharged. Mr. Davis took the gun and pointed it at Mr. Hinman while Mr. Manson sliced Mr. Hinman’s face open with a sword, cutting from his left ear down to his chin. Mr. Davis and Mr. Manson stole Mr. Hinman’s vehicle and returned to the ranch.
The other three Family members remained at Mr. Hinman’s house for two more days while Mr. Hinman lay bleeding. Robert Beausoleil eventually stabbed Mr. Hinman in the chest and smothered him with a pillow, killing him. Inside the home, using Mr. Hinman’s blood, the group wrote the words “political piggy” and drew an animal paw print on the walls. Mr. Hinman’s body was found a week later.
In August 1969, Mr. Manson told his followers that Donald Shea, who worked as a ranch hand at Spahn Ranch, was a police informant and was working with a neighbor to have the Family removed from the ranch. Mr. Manson, and Family members Mr. Davis, Steven Grogan, and Charles Watson lured Mr. Shea into a car. They drove Mr. Shea to a secluded area and stabbed him multiple times, killing him. Mr. Davis has acknowledged that during the attack he used a knife to cut Mr. Shea from his collar bone to his armpit.
Mr. Davis was arrested in December 1970, after evading capture for more than a year.
The question I must answer is whether Mr. 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.)
I acknowledge that Mr. Davis has made efforts to improve himself over the last 50 years. Mr. Davis has earned several educational degrees while incarcerated, including a master’s degree and a doctorate. He has earned vocational certificates, engaged in significant self-help programming, and worked for the Prison Industry Authority for more than seven years. He has not been disciplined since 1980 and has never been disciplined for violent misconduct while in prison. However, these factors are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate he remains unsuitable for parole at this time.
Mr. Davis joined one of the most notorious cults in American history and actively aided in furthering Charles Manson’s goal of triggering an apocalyptic war arising from racial tensions and with the goal of creating societal disorder. The crimes that the Manson Family committed to achieve this goal are among the most disturbing reported in our state’s history. The Family robbed, tortured, and killed at Charles Manson’s behest and Mr. Davis knowingly participated in two of these murders.
Despite his many years in prison, evidence of Mr. Davis’s unsuitability for parole persists. Mr. Davis continues to minimize his involvement in the Hinman and Shea murders and lacks insight into how he came to follow Mr. Manson and commit such extreme acts of violence.
At his 2021 parole hearing, Mr. Davis told the panel, “I was hungry for excitement. Uh, I had a lust for women and drugs. Uh, so when all those things appeared available, I was just, I was holed in.” Mr. Davis was not holed in – in fact, he left the Family, and the country in 1968, but returned because he preferred the lifestyle of the Family. Upon his return, Mr. Davis noticed that the dynamics of the group had changed, and it was discussing race wars, violence, and anarchy, yet he chose to stay. He told commissioners at the hearing, “I’m ashamed to say this, but I did not care as long as Charlie and I got along, and I got along with the girls and there was drugs, outside of that I had no concern.” Mr. Davis acknowledges this lack of empathy as a causative factor of the crime. The psychologist who evaluated Mr. Davis in 2020 noted that Mr. Davis’s lack of empathy may still be a risk factor: “Past problems with his personality functioning remain of high relevance to his violence risk as he continues to have difficulty with empathy which may disinhibit him to engage in violence.”
Mr. Davis continues to minimize his role and participation in the murders. Mr. Davis told the commissioners that he “never” touched Mr. Hinman and that his only role was holding a gun during one of the days the group of crime partners tortured Mr. Hinman. Although holding a gun to Mr. Hinman may have been de minimis in Mr. Davis’s eyes, it was a significant act in the start of the Family’s “war” that terrorized Californians. By the time of Mr. Shea’s murder, Mr. Davis certainly knew of the Family’s goal to use extreme violence, and Mr. Davis was acutely aware that he and his crime partners were going to kill Mr. Shea when they lured him into their car. Still, at his hearing, Mr. Davis attempted to minimize his participation in Mr. Shea’s torture and murder. Mr. Davis told the panel that he “found out that there was a limit to what [he] would do” and instead of cutting Mr. Shea’s head off as Manson ordered him to do, he simply “cut him” on the collarbone and down to his underarm. Mr. Davis’s statements indicate that he still lacks understanding about his conduct and the substantial role he played in the crimes. Mr. Davis does not understand that it was his agreement to participate in Mr. Manson’s plans that resulted in the torture and murder of his victims, regardless of whether he ultimately inflicted the fatal blows. This lack of insight may make him vulnerable to repeating these patterns in the future.
I commend Mr. Davis for his significant efforts in rehabilitation and encourage him to stay on this positive path. However, until Mr. Davis can demonstrate deeper insight into his involvement in these crimes and take full responsibility for his part in one of the darkest points of California’s history, he cannot be safely released.
I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Mr. 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 at this time. Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole Mr. Davis.
June 18, 2021
Governor, State of California