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Friday, June 18th, 2021
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
Monday, June 14th, 2021
Jun. 14 – Leslie Van Houten has filed a Writ of Habeas Corpus in the Superior Court challenging Governor Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her 2020 parole recommendation.
Van Houten was found suitable for parole by the California Board of Parole Hearings last July. Newsom reversed the decision in November stating ‘I do not believe [Van Houten] 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 court to throw out Newsom’s reversal, arguing the Governor failed to prove Van Houten currently poses an unreasonable risk.
Van Houten has been recommended for parole in four consecutive hearings. Governor Newsom and former Governor Jerry Brown have each reversed her grants twice. To date, the courts have upheld the rulings.
Van Houten recently discussed her incarceration in a rare interview for the podcast Ear Hustle.
Van Houten’s next parole hearing will be held on November 9th.
Friday, January 22nd, 2021
Jan. 22 – Bruce Davis was found suitable for parole at his 33rd hearing, held today at San Quentin State Prison. This is Davis’ seventh parole recommendation.
Davis, 78, is serving a life term for his role in the 1969 murders of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea.
Davis was tried in late 1971. After a four month trial, Davis was convicted of two counts of First Degree Murder and one count of Conspiracy to Commit Murder and Robbery. He was sentenced to seven years to life.
Davis has been incarcerated since April 21, 1972. He has been a model prisoner with only two rule infractions in nearly five decades of incarceration, the last occurring in 1980. He received a Master’s degree from Borean School of the Bible and a Doctorate degree in philosophy and religion from Bethany Seminary. While incarcerated Davis has married, fathered a child and divorced.
Davis has been denied parole 26 times since becoming eligible in 1977. He was first recommended for parole in 2010. The decision was reversed by then governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has subsequently been recommended for parole in 2012, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019. Former governor Jerry Brown reversed his parole four times and Gavin Newsom has reversed his parole once.
Due to COVID-19, today’s decision will undergo an expedited review by the Board of Parole Hearings. Then it will be reviewed by Governor Gavin Newsom, who will either confirm, reverse or modify the parole grant. The decision will be finalized no later than June 21st.
Thursday, December 24th, 2020
Dec. 24 – Leslie Van Houten has contracted the coronavirus. The 71 year-old inmate was hospitalized for five days last week according to her attorney, Rich Pfeiffer. Van Houten was returned to the California Institute for Women earlier this week after her condition improved.
There are 8,790 active coronavirus cases among inmates according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. 113 inmates have died from the virus since the beginning of the pandemic.
Earlier this year, California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal denied Pfeiffer’s request to have Van Houten released on her own recognizance or bail after an inmate in her housing until tested positive for coronavirus.
Friday, November 27th, 2020
GOVERNOR NEWSOM’S RULING ON LESLIE VAN HOUTEN’S PAROLE RECOMMENDATION
Nov. 27 – In the summer of 1968, 19-year-old Leslie Van Houten met Charles Manson and began living as a member of Manson’s cult, “the Family.” Members of the cult subscribed to Mr. Manson’s belief that “Helter Skelter,” a civilization ending race-war, was imminent. Mr. Manson planned to hide in the desert with the Family until the conclusion of Helter Skelter, when the Family would take control of the world. In the late summer of 1969, Mr. Manson believed that it was the Family’s responsibility to initiate Helter Skelter by committing murders of white victims in order to incite retaliatory violence against Black people.
On August 8, 1969, Charles Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Linda Kasabian, all members of the Family, drove to the home of Sharon Tate, where they killed her, Steve Parent, Abigail Folger, Wojiciech Fryowski, and Jay Sebring. Ms. Tate, who was eight months pregnant, was stabbed 16 times. Mr. Parent was shot five times. Ms. Folger was stabbed 28 times. Mr. Fryowski was stabbed 51 times, shot twice, and suffered 13 scalp lacerations. Mr. Sebring was stabbed seven times and shot once.
Two days later, on August 10, 1969, Mr. Manson, Ms. Van Houten, Mr. Watson, Ms. Krenwinkel, Ms. Kasabian, and another member of the Family, Steve Grogan, drove to the home of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. Mr. Manson and Mr. Watson went inside the house, tied Mr. and Mrs. La Bianca up, took Mrs. La Bianca’s wallet, and returned to the group outside. Mr. Manson instructed Ms. Van Houten and Ms. Krenwinkel to go inside the house and do whatever Mr. Watson instructed them to do. Mr. Manson, Mr. Grogan, and Ms. Kasabian drove away. Ms. Van Houten, Ms. Krenwinkel, and Mr. Watson entered the La Biancas’ house. Mr. Watson, armed with a bayonet, ordered the La Biancas to hand over their cash. Mrs. La Bianca gave him a small box of money. Mr. Watson told Ms. Van Houten and Ms. Krenwinkel to take Mrs. La Bianca into the bedroom and kill her. Ms. Van Houten and Ms. Krenwinkel took her into a bedroom, and Ms. Krenwinkel retrieved two knives from the kitchen. Ms. Van Houten put a pillowcase over Mrs. La Bianca’s head and wrapped a lamp cord around her neck.
In the living room, Mr. Watson covered Mr. La Bianca’s head with a pillowcase, tied his hands behind his back with a leather thong, and tied an electrical cord around his neck. Mr. Watson stabbed Mr. La Bianca multiple times.
Upon hearing her husband struggle, Mrs. La Bianca forced her way up from the bed, grabbed the lamp, and swung it at Ms. Van Houten. Ms. Van Houten knocked the lamp from Mrs. La Bianca’s hands, wrestled her back onto the bed, and pinned her down. Ms. Krenwinkel stabbed Mrs. La Bianca in the collar bone, causing the blade to bend. Ms. Van Houten called for Mr. Watson, who came into the room and stabbed Mrs. La Bianca eight times. Mr. Watson handed Ms. Van Houten a knife and instructed her to “do something.” Ms. Van Houten stabbed Mrs. La Bianca repeatedly. Ms. Van Houten wiped down surfaces in the house to eliminate fingerprints, changed clothes, and drank chocolate milk from the La Biancas’ refrigerator. The group fled.
Mr. La Bianca was found with a knife protruding from his neck, a carving fork protruding from his stomach, and the word, “War” scratched into his stomach. He died as a result of 13 stab wounds and suffered 14 puncture wounds. Mrs. La Bianca died as a result of approximately 41 stab wounds. The phrases “Death to Pigs,” “Rise,” and references to Helter Skelter were written in the victims’ blood on the walls and the refrigerator. Ms. Van Houten was arrested on November 25, 1969.
I acknowledge that Ms. Van Houten committed this crime when she was 19 years old and that he has since been incarcerated for 50 years. In making this decision, I carefully examined the record for evidence demonstrating Ms. Van Houten’s increased maturity and rehabilitation, and gave great weight to all the factors relevant to her diminished culpability as a youthful offender — her impulsivity, inability to adequately foresee the long-term consequences of her behavior, and the inability to manage her emotions—and her other hallmark features of youth. The psychologist who evaluated Ms. Van Houten in 2018 concluded that “it seems very likely that Ms. Van Houten’s involvement in the life offense was significantly impacted by” these youth factors.
I also acknowledge that Ms. Van Houten has made efforts to improve herself in prison. She has participated in and facilitated self-help programming, including Narcotics Anonymous, Victim Offender Education Group, and the Actors’ Gang Prison Project. She has earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree and completed vocational training. Additionally, Ms. Van Houten has served on the Inmate Advisory Council and has an exemplary disciplinary record. I have given great weight to her subsequent growth in prison during my consideration of her suitability for parole. However, these factors are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate she remains unsuitable for parole at this time.
Ms. Van Houten’s explanation of what allowed her to be vulnerable to Mr. Manson’s influence remains unsatisfying. At her parole hearing, Ms. Van Houten explained that she was turning her back on her parents following their divorce and after a forced abortion. She described herself at the time of her involvement in the Manson Family as a “very weak person that took advantage of someone that wanted to take control of my life and I handed it over.” I am unconvinced that these factors adequately explain her eagerness to submit to a dangerous cult leader or her desire to please Mr. Manson, including engaging in the brutal actions of the life crime.
I remain concerned by Ms. Van Houten’s characterization of her participation in this gruesome double murder, part of a series of crimes that rank among the most infamous and fear-inducing in California history. Ms. Van Houten explained to the evaluating psychologist that she was “desperate to be accepted,” was “chosen” by Mr. Manson, “had to kill them for the beginning of the revolution,” and wanted Mr. Manson to “know I was completely committed to him and his cause.” At her 2020 parole hearing, Ms. Van Houten reiterated that this was her state of mind at the time of the life crime, adding “I felt obligated to participate. I wanted to participate.” Ms. Van Houten recalled that while she was holding Ms. La Bianca down, her crime partner Ms. Krenwinkle, stabbed the victim in the collar bone, which bent the knife. Ms. Van Houten told the psychologist, “I ran to the door of the bedroom, said, ‘We can’t do it. We can’t kill her.’ [Mr. Watson] came into the bedroom, [Ms. Krenwinkle] went into the living room, I stood at the doorway, none of this was conscious, I was running on fear. Tex [Watson] had stabbed her. I assumed she was dead.” Ms. Van Houten continued, “She could have been alive, but I assumed she was dead, Tex said, ‘Do something,’ and handed me a knife. So, I stabbed her in the lower torso 16 times. It was a horrible, predatory feeling.” I note that Ms. Van Houten’s report that committing the offense was “horrible” conflicts with her subsequent conduct. After the murders, Ms. Van Houten reportedly told a young female follower of Mr. Manson that participating in the murders was “fun.” Moreover, she continued to follow Mr. Manson’s instructions and “continued to prepare for the revolution” until she was arrested. The inconsistency indicates gaps in Ms. Van Houten’s insight or candor, or both, which bear on her current risk for dangerousness. The evaluating psychologist noted that several historical factors including “prior violence, violent attitude, other antisocial behavior, troubled relationships, traumatic experiences, and substance abuse problems are
present and relevant to future risk of violent recidivism.” These factors remain salient despite Ms. Van Houten’s advanced age and remain cause for concern should she be released into the community.
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. Before she can be safely released, Ms. Van Houten must do more to develop her understanding of the factors that caused her to seek acceptance from such a negative, violent influence, and perpetrate extreme acts of wanton violence.
I have considered the evidence in the record that is relevant to whether Ms. Van Houten is currently dangerous. When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time. Therefore, I reverse the decision to parole Ms. Van Houten.
November 27, 2020
Governor, State of California