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.