An appeals panel in downtown Los Angeles heard arguments Wednesday but made no immediate ruling on Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten’s latest attempt to be released on parole.
A parole board has recommended the 69-year-old Van Houten’s release from prison three times. Former Gov. Jerry Brown twice reversed the recommendation and Gov. Gavin Newsom is now expected to take up the matter.
Arguing before a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal, Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, said his client deserves to be released because she has been fully rehabilitated, is no longer a threat to anyone, has been a model prisoner and takes full responsibility for her crimes.
Jill Alicia VanderBorght of the state Attorney General’s Office argued against Van Houten’s release, citing the “extreme gravity” of the crimes and her continued “minimization” of her role in them.
Van Houten, who is serving a life prison term, was convicted of murder and conspiracy for participating with fellow Manson family members Charles “Tex” Watson and Patricia Krenwinkel in the August 1969 killings of grocer Leno La Bianca, 44, and his 38-year-old wife, Rosemary, who were each stabbed multiple times in their Los Feliz home.
The former Monrovia High School cheerleader did not participate in the Manson family’s killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in a Benedict Canyon mansion the night before.
Manson died in November 2017 of natural causes while serving life in prison.
At the hearing, Associate Justice Helen Bendix questioned whether Van Houten had expressed remorse for her crimes.
“I do know that she has expressed remorse at every single parole hearing,” Pfeiffer responded. “The hardest part for her is describing what she did … because she can’t undo it.”
But VanderBorght said that she had not seen any remorse from the defendant.
The parole board recommended Van Houten’s release in January, triggering a five-month review process before the matter is submitted to Newsom. The appeals court justices gave attorneys five days to file letters detailing how the governor’s decision would affect the case. The panel questioned whether they still would have jurisdiction to rule if Newsom denies Van Houten’s parole.
Pfeiffer said he is optimistic that Van Houten will be set free, but admits that it is a difficult decision.
“Nobody cares to put their name on her release,” the attorney said outside court. “These are difficult decisions — but that’s why we have courts.”