‘Terrorists, albeit homegrown’: Charles Manson cult follower recommended for parole

Charles Manson © CDCR
A California review board has recommended parole for a former Charles Manson cult member after over 40 years behind bars. Leslie Van Houten was convicted of a notorious killing, part of a murder spree by members of the “Manson family” in the late 1960s.

“Your behavior in prison speaks for itself. Forty–six years and not a single rule violation,” Commissioner Ali Zarrinnam told Van Houten on Thursday at the close of her parole hearing, according to the Associated Press.

Van Houten, 66, was said to be “numb” after the announcement, her attorney Rich Pfeiffer said.

“She’s been ready for this for a long time,” Pfeiffer stated outside the prison. “It really should have happened a long time ago.”

Van Houten was convicted of participating in the killings of Leon La Bianca and his wife Rosemary a day after other so-called “Manson family” members murdered pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of film director Roman Polanski, and four others in 1969.

On Thursday, Van Houten described in graphic detail for the panel how she helped hold a pillow over the head of Rosemary La Bianca with a lamp cord and pinned her down while another person stabbed the woman. Van Houten said she looked off into the distance until another Manson member asked her to join in the stabbing, which she then did, 14 times.

“I don’t let myself off the hook. I don’t find parts of any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself,” she told the panel.

The La Biancas were stabbed numerous times, and the word “WAR” was carved into the stomach of Leno La Bianca.

Since her conviction and imprisonment in the early 1970s, Van Houten has made 19 parole attempts, each of which has been denied.

In the end, Van Houten’s possible release depends on California Governor Jerry Brown, who had previously blocked similar recommendations on behalf of other “Manson family” members.

Governor Brown previously refused to accept the parole of former Manson follower Bruce Davis, citing his rejection to fully accept responsibility for his role in the murders of a stunt man and a musician, and the gravity of his offenses.

Before making it to the governor’s desk, the ruling needs to be approved by the parole board's legal team.

The recommendation for Van Houten’s parole has shocked and saddened the surviving daughter of the La Bianca couple and their extended family, who pleaded with the panel not to release her.

“The Manson family are terrorists, albeit homegrown,” Louis Smaldino, nephew of Leno La Bianca, told AP. “They’re long before their time. What we’re seeing today, these people were back in the 60s.”

Van Houten’s lawyer acknowledged an online petition that opposed her release, but argued that the signers didn’t know the woman his client is today.

"Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner," Cory LaBianca said, according to the LA Times. "But you know what, we still suffer our loss. My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back. There’s no way I can agree with the ruling today. I don’t seek revenge. I just think it's just for someone to do that to stay in prison."

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office also “vehemently opposed Van Houten’s release,” according to AP.

Charles Manson believed the killings were the start of a coming apocalyptic race war, which he dubbed “Helter Skelter” after a Beatles song. Van Houten was the youngest Manson follower and had descended into a life of drugs, joining the cult in 1960. After the killings, she said the group planned to retreat to the desert and hide in a hole.

Charles Manson, 81, who was convicted for conspiracy to commit murder, and other followers involved in the killings are still in prison.