Monthly Archives: May 2014
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014
Opposition letter from Cory LaBianca, read by her cousin, John DeSantis, at Leslie Van Houten’s 2006 Parole Hearing
My name is Cory LaBianca, and I am the eldest daughter of Leno LaBianca. Rosemary LaBianca was my stepmother for 11 years. I was 21 years old at the time of their deaths and I loved them both dearly. My cousin, Lewis Smaldino and John DeSantis, have graciously appeared at these parole hearings, representatives of the entire LaBianca family. In my eyes, they are angels. John has offered to read my letter to you today.
The house at 3301 Waverly Drive is in our — in our family for years. Since 1940, when my grandfather and grandmother, Anthony and Corina LaBianca bought it for their growing family. A solidly-built, white stucco house with a red tile roof, stood upon an acre of high land in the Los Feliz hills of Los Angeles. It was a modest two-bedroom home. But the ceilings in every room are decorated with (inaudible) intricately painted scroll work and the grounds reminiscent of a miniature Italian villa. The sweeping front lawn was our Thanksgiving Day rolling (inaudible), where my cousins and I would race each other rolling; rolling sideways to the bottom of the hill. We played hide and go seek in a side yard. A well-manicured rose garden maze like the Queen’s Garden in Alice in Wonderland. The sloping backyard was filled with trees that only my older cousins, boy cousins, were allowed to climb fully mature walnut, persimmon, apricot, fig and one huge mulberry. That mulberry tree covered the ground with its ripe fruit and I loved to mischievously squish those dark, juicy berries into the cement with my bare feet, knowing I would get a mild scolding from Papa Anthony if he caught me. The wine cellar beneath the back porch was off limits, and when nobody was looking, my little brother and I would creep open the rickety old wooden door and climb into the dark dankness of forbidden space, just to count the wine bottles and finger the spider webs. Sometimes we would get to stay overnight at our grandparents’ house. And in the early morning, Nana Corina would wake me and we’d walk to the bottom of the hill to admire her morning glories. The blue violet, funnel-shaped blossoms were mixed in with the ivy that blanketed the slope next to the road, and were always the first thing I’d seen from the car window when we came to visit. See how they open with the sun, Nana would say, cupping the flower gently in her hand. Aren’t they pretty. And then we would turn and walk slowly up the long driveway to the house. This was our family home, our grandparents’ home, the place where I and all my cousins have wonderful memories.
But on the night of August 10th, 1969, those memories were fractured when a band of strangers invaded our home and killed my parents, who were living there at the time. Can you imagine how we must feel having that nightmare interwoven with our most cheeriest childhood memories? We can do nothing to change the events of 37 years ago or to erase those horrible memories from our hearts and minds. But you, the Parole Board, can make certain that we don’t have to bear more. I ask you, please, do not make a mockery of what we love with your decision here today. Your rule — Your ruling will have an impact on all our lives.
Wednesday, May 7th, 2014
May 7 – On the afternoon of Sunday, September 21, 1975 Lynette Fromme was interviewed on tape at the Sacramento County Jail by Dr. James Richmond, at the request of U.S. District Judge Thomas J. MacBride, to evaluate if Fromme was mentally competent to give up counsel and represent herself at trial. The tape was hand delivered to MacBride the following day and placed under seal, along with Dr. Richmond’s determination which read:
Lynette Alice Fromme was seen in psychiatric evaluation on the 21st of September, 1975, pursuant to your order and in accordance with provisions of Title 18 U.S.C. Section 4244. Present throughout the examination was Robert M. Holley, Assistant Federal Defender. Mr. David R. Kraft, Federal Public Defender Investigator, was present periodically to supervise the tape recording of the examination, The evaluation lasted approximately one hour and forty minutes and was conducted with the stipulation from Mr. Holley that absolutely no questions be asked with reference to the events of the alleged offense.
The defendant is a 26 year old, single, caucasian woman who stated that she was charged with the attempted assassination of the President of the United States. She stated the alleged offense occurred on the 5th of September, 1975, and that she had been arrested at approximately 11 A.M. of that same day, being held in the Sacramento County Jail since that time. She estimated she had been in court approximately 3 times. She said that she was represented by the Federal Defender’s Office, having discussed her case to some degree with both E. Richard Walker and with Robert Holley of that office. She stated that presently she was represented primarily by Mr. Holley whom she felt to be a competent attorney. She stated that she had experienced no difficulty in communicating with each of these attorneys. She expressed her awareness that the offense was a very serious one and that she faced “years to life” in prison if she were found guilty. She stated that she had entered a plea of “Not Guilty,” this plea having been decided upon primarily by herself with concurrence from appointed counsel. While unwilling to discuss in any detail her planned defense, she stated that she thought there was a 70% chance of being found Not Guilty, though she had concluded that she would probably do some prison time, perhaps for a charge other than attempted assassination.
With regard to the issue of self representation in court, Miss Fromme stated that she had considered this issue at length and that she had a definite conviction “in heart and mind” to carry this through. She expressed her firm conviction that noone could adequately speak for her, that people generally should speak for themselves. She expressed concern about the distortions that had appeared in various publications, indicating in a general fashion that she hoped her image might be changed by her deportment during the trial. She expressed awareness that there would be attempts to make her out to be a bad person, stating that she could remain calm under such a situation. While saying that only she could adequately speak for herself, she said that she was aware the trial situation was not a forum to express her ideas generally and that she was prepared to accept the authority of the court. She anticipated no difficulty in conducting herself in a “businesslike” manner. She acknowledged her lack of familiarity with the technical aspects of courtroom procedures, saying however, that she thought she could pick these up as the trial proceeded as she was “quick” when she wishes to be. She stated that she did “plan” on having Mr. Holley as her co-counsel, though this matter had not previously been discussed, and that such an arrangement would be “fair.”
Miss Fromme stated that it was not a severe emotional stress to appear in court, that she felt comfortable with you as the trial judge, and that she had a general conviction that you would handle her case fairly. This she said was not based on any personal knowledge of your record or the types of decisions which you have made, but rather was based on a general feeling of comfort in her communication with you. She stated further that she had full recall of the circumstances of the offense, and that she could discuss these in detail without undue emotional strain. She said She has the ability to “make the best of any situation” she is in.
Miss Fromme said that she was feeling well, mentally and physically. She denied any present anxiety, depression, paranoia, hallucinations, insomnia, anorexia, depersonalization, or use of medication. She said that she was sleeping well, arising refreshed. She estimated she had lost some weight, the product of passing up jail food which is markedly different from her prior health food and vegetarian diet. She denied any prior history of significant mental illness, psychiatric therapy or hospitalization.
Miss Fromme acknowledged having experimented with LSD and marijuana in prior years. She said that newspaper accounts of how heavily she had used drugs were patently false. She estimated that she had used LSD approximately 30 or less times, and she stated that she had never experienced any severe psychiatric disturbance from such use. She said that she had used marijuana lightly, perhaps one joint per week, in no steady pattern. She said that the effects from it were even lighter than from the LSD. She denied any residual memory or intellectual deficit from the use of either.
Miss Fromme did not wish to discuss her family or prior life in any detail as she felt this was not pertinent to the issues at hand in the present evaluation. She claimed that she had gotten along well with parents and siblings and that she was not a rebellious child. She stated that when she was 18 she and her father disagreed about certain things, and he asked her to leave home. She has not been contacted by her parents since incarcerated.
Miss Fromme has been educated through high school. She did very well academically to start, but lost interest in her later study and her grades fell to average. She had started college, planning to major in psychology, but dropped out when she was asked to leave home.
With regard to her life from 18 to the present, Miss Fromme said that newspaper and magazine accounts were grossly distorted in many ways. She described this period of her life as one marked by increasing social awareness with a discovery of a joy in giving. She denied that she had participated in “sex or drug orgies, or cult meetings, or hanging Christ in effigy, or thinking Charlie was Christ.” She said that she believes in God as “life force” resident in all living things, and that all persons are potential deities. She said that this world is a beautiful place. She expressed no firm belief, pro or con, regarding some final “judgement”, but she stated that people pretty much “judge themselves.”
Miss Fromme is a young caucasian woman with long reddish-brown hair who appeared several years younger than her stated age. She was dressed in typical jail garb. Both her clothing and her hair were somewhat disheveled, though her grooming generally was adequate. She had a careful, somewhat tired expression about her. As the examination continued she loosened up emotionally, showing a range of emotional expression in keeping with the present situation. She smiled appropriately periodically. She displayed no overt anxiety or depression, and there were no signs of a psychotic thought disorder. She was attentive, comprehended my questions without difficulty except for occasional words with which she was not familiar, and her responses were quick, pertinent, and appeared candid. Her statements were consistently rational. She appeared to be a most sensitive and intuitive person, acutely tuned in to social issues. At one point she suggested a way in which I might join in with a constructive social activist project prominent in her thoughts. There was an air of composed restraint with regard to what she believed to be gross and repeated distortions and misinterpretations of her prior life and activities. She was alert, well oriented, and displayed intact intellectual functions including that of memory. Her abstractive abilities were quick and certain, indicating a definite ability to think symbolically. While not having extensive formal education, she appeared to be of at least bright normal intelligence. While she obviously had strong underlying emotions, she was consistently soft spoken and definitely in control.
As I explored in detail with Miss Fromme her thoughts and intentions with regard to representing herself in court, she became concerned that perhaps I was trying to talk her out of such a course of action. She accepted my reassurance that I had not been appointed nor had I come for such a purpose. It appeared that she had given considerable thought to this issue, that she was accepting of the fact that she was not technically experienced, but that she was firmly determined to do this if at all possible. Her desire for co-counsel was most appropriate, though I could not be certain that this thought had preceded my questioning. In this regard, she was most attentive to the presence of Mr. Holley, and she indicated that she wished to speak with him as soon as the examination was concluded.
It is my opinion that Lynette Alice Fromme is mentally competent to understand the proceedings against her and to assist in her own defense. It is my further opinion that she has the capacity to meaningfully waive the right to counsel, should this be her desire.
In July of 2013, the Eastern District Historical Society and the Sacramento Bee began filing a series of motions in U.S District court, requesting the court unseal items possessed by the clerk from the Fromme trial. On the list was the 93-minute audio recording of the Fromme/Richmond interview.
The following month, U.S. District Judge Kimberly Mueller tentatively ordered the release of a number of sealed materials from the trial. However, the Fromme/Richmond recording wasn’t included on the list and remained under seal. Attorneys representing the Eastern District Historical Society and the Sacramento Bee partially objected to ruling, arguing that the Fromme/Richmond tape should not be excluded. Their argument cited United States v. Kaczynski, in which the Ninth Circuit court had granted the motion to unseal a redacted version of Theodore Kaczynski’s psychiatric competency report.
A week later, U.S. Attorney Christiaan Highsmith responded to the Sacramento Bee’s partial objection, writing:
The Government objects to this request because the defendant, Ms. Fromme, has not been notified of the Bee’s motion. In United States v. Kaczynski, 154 F.3d 930 (9th Cir. 1998), which the Bee cites in its motion, the Court of Appeals ordered the release of redacted versions of the defendant’s psychiatric competency report. In the Kaczynski case, the defendant was provided with notice of the motion to unseal his psychiatric report, and he opposed that motion before the Court of Appeals made it ultimate decision to unseal portions of the psychiatric report. Here, however, Ms. Fromme has not yet been provided with notice of the Bee’s motion to unseal. The Government believes it is proper that Ms. Fromme be notified of the motion to release her psychiatric report before the Court issues its order concerning whether the report must be unsealed.
On November 12, 2013, notice was sent to Lynette Fromme’s last known address that a hearing on the motion to unseal the psychiatric report would be held in Sacramento on January 17, 2014. It is unknown whether Fromme would’ve objected to the release, or if she even received the notice, because she never responded.
After both the U.S. Attorney and the court determined Fromme was provided adequate notice, the motion to unseal was granted in part in order for the tape to be digitized so that the Judge could review it to determine if redaction was necessary.
On April 16, 2014, Judge Mueller made her final ruling, unsealing the entire recording, writing:
In this case, given the contents of the audio recording and the applicable law, the court finds no need to redact portions of the recording. Unlike the redactions in Kaczynski, there is no discussion of ‘private information’ or information that has ‘the potential to embarrass a person not before the court.’ Instead, the recording exclusively explores, through Dr. Richmond’s questioning, defendant’s background, demeanor, and mental state and explores defendant’s motivation, desire, and ability to represent herself. Dr. Richmond reviews these issues for the purpose of determining whether defendant was competent to stand trial and represent herself, if she wished. Thus, the court finds unsealing the entire report ‘serve[s] the ends of justice by informing the public about the court’s competency determination.’