Parole denied again for youngest Manson follower

By Linda Deutsch
AP Special Correspondent

CHINO, Calif. (AP) — The news that Leslie Van Houten was denied her 20th bid for parole sounded a warning for other prisoners marked with the stigma of the Manson Family crimes.

“I X-ed myself out of society and I ask you to allow me to re-enter society,” Van Houten said, referring to a time when she and other Charles Manson followers emulated the cult leader in carving the letter X on their foreheads.

But her plea, supported by evidence of her rehabilitation and her good works in prison, carried little weight with the two parole commissioners, who said her crimes were so “heinous and atrocious” that they overwhelmed everything else.

“The crimes will always be a factor,” said Board of Parole Hearings Commissioner Jeffrey Ferguson. “The question is whether the good will ever outweigh the bad. It certainly didn’t today.”

Van Houten had told him: “I know I did something that is unforgiveable, but I can create a world where I make amends. I’m trying to be someone who lives a life for healing rather than destruction.”

She was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the slayings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, wealthy Los Angeles grocers stabbed to death in August 1969. During the penalty phase of her trial Van Houten confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead. A night earlier, Manson’s followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others, but Van Houten did not take part in those murders.

Van Houten spoke frankly of her crimes and apologized to the families of victims. The hearing lasted eight hours, but while Van Houten spoke of becoming a new person during her 44 years in prison, it was the old person — the 19-year-old killer who was convicted with Manson and two other women followers — who was the subject of Wednesday’s parole hearing at the California Institution for Women.

Though cult leader Manson was not present, his influence loomed over the proceedings. Van Houten’s lawyer, Michael Satris, said his client “sank to the depths of Dante’s inferno and she put herself there by consorting with the devil himself, Charles Manson.”

With victims’ survivors sitting behind her in a cramped room at the California Institution for Women, Van Houten acknowledged participating in the killings ordered by Manson. She said she was drawn to the cult leader because he seemed to have all the answers.

“He could never have done what he did without people like me,” said Van Houten.