Mar. 7 – A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ordered the Attorney General of California to provide evidence that Leslie Van Houten is currently an unreasonable risk for parole. The Attorney General will have until March 31st to respond.
The California Board of Parole Hearings found Van Houten suitable for parole in September, but the decision was reversed by Governor Jerry Brown, who reasoned that the heinousness of the murders outweighed Van Houten’s positive prison record. In addition, Brown’s ruling stated that Van Houten had a history of downplaying her role in the murders.
“At her 2017 parole hearing, Van Houten claimed full responsibility for her crimes,” wrote Brown. “However, she still shifted blame for her own actions onto Manson to some extent, saying, ‘I take responsibility for the entire crime. I take responsibility going back to Manson being able to do what he did to all of us. I allowed it.’ She later stated, ‘I accept responsibility that I allowed [Manson] to conduct my life in that way.’”
On January 22, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer filed a writ of Habeas Corpus in Los Angeles Superior Court, challenging Brown’s reversal.
“This is a Catch-22,” argued Pfeiffer. “If Ms. Van Houten fails to recognize the true facts how Manson controlled the cult, she has no insight and remains a risk of danger. If she does testify to that control, she shifts some blame to Manson and does not take full responsibility, and is denied parole for that reason. The Governor can’t have it both ways.”
According to Pfeiffer, Brown’s ruling is solely based on the murders themselves. Case law states that the Governor’s decision must be supported by some evidence of the inmate’s current dangerousness. The Governor must consider the same factors found by the Board of Parole Hearings. However, he is entitled to weigh them differently. Brown’s ruling cites a passage from the 2008 California Supreme Court opinion, In re Lawrence, which states “that certain conviction offenses may be so ‘heinous, atrocious or cruel’ that an inmate’s due process rights would not be violated if he or she were to be denied parole on the basis that the gravity of the conviction offense establishes current dangerousness.”
According to Brown, Van Houten’s case is just such a case. The Board of Parole Hearings disagrees. Parole Commissioner Brian Roberts discussed the legal standard from In re Lawrence at Van Houten’s parole hearing last September, stating that it perhaps applied to other members of the Manson family, but not to her.
“The Governor cites no evidence of a nexus between the commitment offense and a current unreasonable risk to public safety other than Ms. Van Houten recognized the power of cults, and in particular people like Manson who persuade others to act as he so orders,” wrote Pfeiffer. “That understanding is not a risk.”
UPDATED 3/28/18 – The Attorney General’s office will request a 30 day extension to file a return