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Newsom Reverses Van Houten Parole Grant

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.

DECISION

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Decision Date:
November 27, 2020
GAVIN NEWSOM
Governor, State of California

California Supreme Court Delays Van Houten Decision

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020


Aug. 22 – The California Supreme Court will take more time to decide whether to review or deny a petition filed by Leslie Van Houten which challenges Governor Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her 2019 parole recommendation.

The petition, filed on July 7th, argues the Governor’s decision was not supported by evidence of current dangerousness; due process was violated when Van Houten was denied access to the Tex Watson tapes; and that the notoriety of the crime creates a conflict of interest for Newsom, because his political career could be negatively impacted if he allowed Van Houten’s parole grant to stand.

The state’s attorney general told the court Van Houten’s petition should be denied.

“None of Van Houten’s specific challenges to the Governor’s decision has merit,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Jennifer O. Cano, in an answer filed on July 27th. “The Governor properly relied on the seriousness of her murders in his decision to deny her parole, and was not required to consider the Tex Watson tapes, which are not part of the parole record. Van Houten’s conflict-of-interest claim is also without merit as the Governor is constitutionally authorized to review parole decisions for convicted murderers — a review that is independent from the Board’s.”

On July 31st, Van Houten filed a 21-page reply to the attorney general’s answer.

Van Houten was found suitable for parole for the third time on January 30, 2019. Newsom reversed the decision on June 3, 2019, stating Van Houten lacked insight and must take additional steps to demonstrate she will never return to the type of submission or violence again. The decision was upheld in the Superior court on January 31, 2020. California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal also upheld the reversal in a 2-to-1 vote on July 2nd.

Justice Virginia Chaney was the lone dissenter, as was the case last year when the same court heard Van Houten’s appeal of former Governor Jerry Brown’s reversal of her 2017 parole grant.

“I would issue an order to show cause why the petition should not be granted because I find no evidence in the record to support the Governor’s conclusion that [Van Houten] currently poses an unreasonable risk to public safety if released on parole,” Chaney wrote in her dissent. “I also would issue an alternative writ directing the superior court to vacate that part of its September 11, 2019 order denying [Van Houten’s] request for the transcripts of taped interviews of Charles “Tex” Watson conducted in December 1969 and January 1970 and then issue a new and different order granting same, or show cause why it elected not to do so.”

Van Houten has since been recommended for parole for a fourth time, at a hearing held last month. The grant is currently being reviewed 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 November 20th.

The California Supreme Court will have until October 5th to decide whether to review or deny Van Houten’s petition related to her 2019 reversal.

Van Houten Granted Parole

Thursday, July 23rd, 2020


Jul. 23 – Leslie Van Houten was found suitable for parole at a hearing held today by the California Board of Parole Hearings. This was Van Houten’s fourth consecutive parole suitability recommendation.

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 during the trial.

Van Houten was retried in 1977, resulting in a hung jury. She was retried the following year and that time, convicted and sentenced to seven years to life. Because of time served on her original sentence, Van Houten was already eligible for parole when she returned to prison in August of 1978.

Van Houten, now 70, has been denied parole 19 times since becoming eligible in 1978. She was recommended for parole at her 2016, 2017 and 2019 hearings. Each grant however, was reversed by the governor.

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 November 20th.

Van Houten is also waiting on a California Supreme Court ruling regarding Governor Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her 2019 parole recommendation. Earlier this month, Van Houten petitioned the state’s high court to weigh in on the decision. The court gave the attorney general until Monday to file in opposition.

Van Houten Petitions State Supreme Court

Friday, July 10th, 2020


Jul. 10 – Attorneys representing Leslie Van Houten are asking the California Supreme Court to review Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her 2019 parole grant.

On Tuesday, Van Houten’s attorney, Richard Pfeiffer, filed a 38-page brief petitioning the state’s high court to weigh in on the decision which has been upheld in the superior and appellate courts.

In January, the California Supreme Court granted review of former governor Jerry Brown’s reversal of Van Houten’s 2017 parole grant. But the case was dismissed and remanded to the appellate court, who made no changes to their previous ruling.

Court of Appeal Upholds Van Houten Parole Reversal; Denies her Tex Tapes

Friday, July 3rd, 2020

Jul. 3 – California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has denied Leslie Van Houten’s writ of habeas corpus which challenged Governor Gavin Newsom’s reversal of her 2019 parole grant. The court, which ruled 2-to-1 against Van Houten, also denied her access to the Tex Watson tapes.

Justice Virginia Chaney was the lone dissenter, as was the case last year when the court heard Van Houten’s appeal of former Governor Jerry Brown’s reversal of her 2017 parole grant.

“I would issue an order to show cause why the petition should not be granted because I find no evidence in the record to support the Governor’s conclusion that [Van Houten] currently poses an unreasonable risk to public safety if released on parole,” Chaney wrote in her dissent. “I also would issue an alternative writ directing the superior court to vacate that part of its September 11, 2019 order denying [Van Houten’s] request for the transcripts of taped interviews of Charles “Tex” Watson conducted in December 1969 and January 1970 and then issue a new and different order granting same, or show cause why it elected not to do so.”

Van Houten’s next parole hearing will be held on Thursday, July 23rd and will be conducted via Skype due to COVID19.