Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Parole Denied for Leslie Van Houten
5:42 p.m.June 5, 2013
CHINO, Calif. — Former Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer Leslie Van Houten has been denied parole once again.
The denial came at the 63-year-old's 20th parole hearing on Wednesday, where the panel heard from relatives of the victims who were opposed to her release.
Board of Parole Hearings Commissioner Jeffrey Ferguson told Van Houten she had failed to explain how someone as intelligent and well-bred as she was could have committed the "cruel and atrocious" murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. She won't be eligible to ask for parole again for five years, but Ferguson said she could request another hearing sooner if circumstances change.
"The crimes will always be a factor," he said. "The question is whether the good will ever outweigh the bad. It certainly didn't today."
With survivors of the LaBiancas sitting behind her at the California Institution for Women, Van Houten acknowledged participating in the killings ordered by Manson.
The ruling came after a full-day hearing at which six representatives of the La Bianca family spoke in anguish about the loss of the couple.
"Today after 44 years, your crimes still instill fear in innocent people," said Ferguson. "The motive was the worst I can imagine, to incite a race war. Your crimes were gruesome and bloody."
During her comments, Van Houten repeatedly said that she was traumatized by her parents' divorce when she was 14, her pregnancy soon after and her mother's insistence that she have an abortion.
"Many people have traumatic childhoods," said Ferguson. "You have failed to explain at this time what would cause you to commit such horrific atrocities."
Van Houten showed no reaction to the ruling and quickly was escorted out of the room. In her final statement, Van Houten apologized to everyone she harmed.
"I know that the pain goes on generationally. I want the victims to know I'm deeply ashamed of what I have done," she said. After years of therapy and self-examination, she said, she realizes that what she did was "like a pebble falling in a pond which affected so many people."
"Mr. and Mrs. La Bianca died the worst possible deaths a human being can," she said.
Arguing to the board, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequiera said some crimes may be an exception to the law guaranteeing the possibility of parole.
"There are certain crimes that are so heinous, so atrocious, so horrible that it should cause denial of parole," he said, elaborating on Van Houten's contradictions over the years.
In response, 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." However, Satris said his client has totally reformed herself.
"Leslie committed a great sin, a great crime in 1969, and in that time (in prison) she has developed into the equal of a saint," he said. "Everything she does is for humanity."
Van Houten was portrayed at trial by her defense lawyers as the youngest and least culpable of those convicted with Manson, a young woman from a good family who had been a homecoming princess and showed promise until she became involved with drugs and was recruited into Manson's murderous cult.
Now deeply wrinkled with long gray hair tied back in a ponytail, Van Houten at times seemed near tears but did not break down at the Wednesday hearing.
Asked if she would have done the same had children been involved, she answered, "I can't say I wouldn't have done that. I'd like to say I wouldn't, but I don't know."
Asked to explain her actions, she said, "I feel that at that point I had really lost my humanity and I can't know how far I would have gone. I had no regard for life and no measurement of my limitations."
Van Houten has previously been commended for her work helping elderly women inmates at the California Institution for Women. She earned two college degrees while in custody.
AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch covered the Tate-LaBianca killings and the Manson trial as well as multiple parole hearings for Manson family members.