Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — Leslie Van Houten, the youngest of Charles Manson’s followers to take part in one of the nation’s most notorious killings, is trying again for parole.
The homecoming princess who descended into a life of drugs before joining Manson’s cult in the 1960s is scheduled for her 21st hearing before a parole board panel on Thursday at the California Institution for Women in Chino.
Van Houten, 66, has spent more than four decades in prison, completing college degrees and demonstrating exemplary behavior.
She was convicted for her role in the 1969 murders of wealthy grocer Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary in their Los Angeles home. The La Biancas were stabbed numerous times and the word “WAR” was carved on his stomach.
The couple was killed a day after other so-called “Manson family” members murdered actress Sharon Tate, pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four others. The killings were the start of what Manson believed was a coming race war. He dubbed it “Helter Skelter” after a Beatles song.
Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said she presents no danger to the public and should be freed.
“The only violent thing she has ever done in her entire life was this crime and that was under the control of Charles Manson,” he said. “She is just not a public safety risk, and when you are not a public safety risk, the law says you shall be released.”
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office declined to comment ahead of Thursday’s hearing.
Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra, has started an online petition opposing parole for Van Houten, saying she failed to show remorse for years after the crimes and can’t be trusted.
At her last hearing in 2013, a parole commissioner told Van Houten she had failed to explain how someone as intelligent and well-bred as she could have committed such cruel and atrocious crimes.
Van Houten told the panel she had been traumatized by her parents’ divorce when she was 14, her pregnancy soon after and her mother’s insistence she have an abortion. During the hearing, she apologized to everyone she had harmed.
Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were slain. She was 19 at the time.
Her defense lawyers portrayed her as a young woman from a good family who had been a homecoming princess and showed promise until she got involved with drugs and was recruited into Manson’s cult.
During the penalty phase of her trial, she confessed to joining in stabbing Rosemary La Bianca after she was dead.
Van Houten’s conviction was overturned on appeal. She was retried twice and convicted in 1978 of two counts of murder and conspiracy.
Manson, 81, and other followers involved in the killings are still jailed.
Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson have each been denied parole multiple times, while fellow defendant Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.
Former Manson follower Bruce Davis was approved for parole but Gov. Jerry Brown blocked his release in 2014, citing the gravity of his offenses and his refusal to fully accept responsibility for his role in the murders of a stunt man and a musician.
Davis was not involved in the Tate-La Bianca murders.