Jan. 26 –An appellate court panel has granted Leslie Van Houten a hearing regarding Governor Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her July 2020 parole recommendation. The hearing will take place in Los Angeles on March 16, with a three-justice panel hearing arguments from Van Houten’s attorneys and the Attorney General.
“Given the extreme nature of the crime in which she was involved, I do not believe she has sufficiently demonstrated that she has come to terms with the totality of the factors that led her to participate in the vicious Manson Family killings.”
Van Houten’s attorneys petitioned the Superior Court to throw out Newsom’s reversal, arguing the Governor failed to prove Van Houten currently posed an unreasonable risk.
Superior Court Judge Ronald S. Coen denied Van Houten’s petition and upheld Newsom’s reversal, saying the record contained some evidence to support Newsom’s decision; the nature of the commitment offense, an unsupportive psychological evaluation, lack of insight and minimization.
Van Houten’s attorneys took the matter to the appellate court, filing a petition arguing that Newsom’s reversal violated her due process; failed to assess her overall record; relied heavily on the gravity of the commitment offense; and that it established a parole standard that Van Houten could never meet, turning her sentence into a de facto sentence of life without parole.
According to Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Heinisch, Van Houten is asking the court to discount the Governor’s conclusions while giving greater weight to the positive aspects of her record.
“The Governor’s decision is the result of his independent assessment of Van Houten’s individual public safety risk and his determination that her inconsistent responses to the Board and evaluators, even decades after the Manson Family murders and significant efforts in rehabilitation, demonstrate ‘gaps in [her] insight or candor, or both.’” wrote Heinisch, in a brief filed with the court on January 20. “The Governor’s findings are reasonably supported by some evidence in the record.”
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 while the trial was in progress.
Van Houten was retried in 1977, resulting in a hung jury. She was retried the following year and again convicted, this time sentenced to life with the possibility of parole. Because of time served on her original sentence, Van Houten was already eligible for parole when she returned to prison in August of 1978.
Since then, she has been denied parole 19 times. She has been recommended for parole in her last five consecutive parole hearings. All five of Van Houten’s parole recommendations have been reversed by the Governor.
Last November, Van Houten elected to waive her parole hearing for one year, deciding to wait for the courts to rule on her 4th and 5th reversals.
Her next parole hearing is tentatively scheduled for May of 2024.
Updated 2/3/23 – The People’s 1/30/23 Supplemental Return: In Re Palmer
Updated 2/24/23 – Van Houten’s 2/17/23 Traverse to Respondent’s Reply to the Order to Show Cause
Updated 3/8/23 – Van Houten’s 3/2/23 Supplemental Return Reply: In Re Palmer
Updated 3/13/23 – With instructions on how you can watch the hearing.