- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2016

For the first time, the California state parole board has voted to free one of the principal accomplices of Charles Manson in the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders.

Leslie Van Houten was recommended for parole Thursday in her 20th request before the Board of Parole Hearings, which will review its decision and then send its recommendation on to the governor.

However, Van Houten is not free yet, as the approval of Gov. Jerry Brown is not a pro forma matter. In 2014, Mr. Brown vetoed the parole board’s recommendation that “Manson Family” member Bruce Davis be paroled for his role in another murder that was not part of the sensational 1970-71 trial that gripped America and even drew comments from President Nixon.

Attorney Rich Pfeiffer told reporters that, upon hearing the parole board’s decision, Van Houten was “numb” at the California Institution for Women in Chino. “She’s been ready for this for a long time,” he said outside the prison.

Van Houten was convicted of two of the Tate-LaBianca murders, that of wealthy grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary.

Van Houten acknowledged at Thursday’s hearing holding down Rosemary LaBianca with a pillow and an electrical cord while other “Manson Family” members stabbed her. At her trial, where Van Houten was originally sentenced to death, she happily described stabbing Rosemary LaBianca herself postmortem.

“I don’t let myself off the hook. I don’t find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself,” the now 66-year-old Van Houten told the parole board panel.

Van Houten was not at the previous night’s attack, at which actress Sharon Tate and four houseguests were killed in a grisly manner that Manson hoped would incite revolution against the “pigs” based on his interpretation of the Beatles song “Helter Skelter.”

Both LaBiancas were stabbed dozens of times, as an object lesson for revolutionaries, and the word “war” was carved into Leno LaBianca’s body.

Along with Manson and fellow cult members Patricia Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins, Van Houten was sentenced to death after a sensational trial, though the Supreme Court’s abolition of the death penalty in 1973 commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.

Atkins died in 2009, and the other three are still in jail.

Lawyers for Van Houten said their client has been an exemplary inmate for decades and never committed any act of violence outside that single 1969 night, which they blamed on her being under the “spell” of drugs and Manson.

“She is just not a public safety risk, and when you are not a public safety risk, the law says you shall be released,” Mr. Pfeiffer told reporters before the hearing.

Tate’s sister, Debra, has an online petition opposing parole for Van Houten, and she has kept vigil for decades, attending every parole hearing for the principal “Manson Family” members.

“Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner,” Cory LaBianca, who was 21 at the time of the killings, told the Los Angeles Times. “But you know what, we still suffer our loss. My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back.”

Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said “we disagree with the board’s decision and will evaluate how we plan to proceed.”

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