US

Woman who took part in Charles Manson killings should be released, court says

A 73-year-old woman who took part in two killings on the orders of cult leader Charles Manson in 1969 should be released from prison on parole, a Californian appeals court has ruled.

Leslie Van Houten is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers kill Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife Rosemary.

Van Houten was 19 at the time.

Mr LaBianca’s body was carved up during the killing and the couple’s blood was smeared on the walls.

The killings came the day after other Manson followers, not including Van Houten, killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others in violence that shocked Los Angeles and the nation.

Van Houten, then one of Manson’s youngest followers, has spent more than 50 years in prison.

The appeal court’s ruling reverses an earlier decision by California Governor Gavin Newsom, who rejected parole for Van Houten in 2020.

She has been recommended for parole five times since 2016. All of those recommendations were rejected by either Mr Newsom or former California governor Jerry Brown.

Mr Newsom has said that Van Houten still poses a danger to society. In rejecting her parole, he said she offered an inconsistent and inadequate explanation for her involvement with Manson at the time of the killings.

But the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles has now ruled 2-1 to reverse Mr Newsom’s decision, writing there is “no evidence to support the Governor’s conclusions” about Van Houten’s fitness for parole.

It marks the first time a court has overruled a governor’s denial of parole to a Manson follower, according to the Los Angeles Times.

However, California Attorney General Rob Bonta could still ask the California Supreme Court to stop her release.

Neither his office nor Mr Newsom’s immediately responded to requests for comment on whether they would do so, according to local reports.

Nancy Tetreault, Van Houten’s lawyer, said she expects Mr Bonta to ask the state’s supreme court to review the court’s decision in a process that could take years.

Manson, who died in prison in 2017 at age 83, instructed his mostly young and female followers to murder seven people in August 1969 in what prosecutors said was part of a plan to spark a race war.

Although Manson, one of the 20th century’s most notorious criminals, did not personally kill any of the seven victims, he was found guilty of ordering their murders.

The death sentences given to Manson and his followers were commuted to life in prison after capital punishment was ruled unconstitutional in 1972.

Van Houten’s 1971 original conviction and death sentence was initially overturned on appeal, but she was retried, convicted and sentenced to prison in 1978.

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