Court ponders authority to rule on Manson follower’s parole

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Court ponders authority to rule on Manson follower’s parole

Leslie Van Houten was 19 when she and fellow members of Manson’s cult stabbed grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, to death in 1969.


Leslie Van Houten is serving a life sentence and has been recommended for release twice before (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)
Leslie Van Houten is serving a life sentence and has been recommended for release twice before (Stan Lim/Los Angeles Daily News via AP, Pool, File)

A California appeals court has questioned whether it has jurisdiction to decide on parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten or whether the issue becomes moot after the governor weighs in.

Van Houten’s lawyer told a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles that his client is remorseful and takes responsibility for her crimes. A state prosecutor said the 69-year-old has placed too much blame on Manson himself.

Van Houten was 19 when she and fellow members of Manson’s cult stabbed Los Angeles grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, to death in 1969. The killings took place a day after other so-called Manson family members killed actress Sharon Tate and four others in crimes that shocked the world.

If the courts don’t release Miss Van Houten, she’s never going to be released
Leslie Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer

Van Houten was not involved in the other killings. She’s serving a life sentence and has been recommended for release twice before but ultimately denied.

The appeals judges are reviewing a lower court’s ruling that denied her parole. Since that ruling, a parole board recommended for the third time that Van Houten be freed, a decision undergoing a five-month review process before heading to governor Gavin Newsom.

The judges wondered whether they still would have jurisdiction to rule if Mr Newsom denies Van Houten parole.

Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, told the judges they not only have jurisdiction but a duty to decide, adding that no elected politician will ever agree to Van Houten’s parole because of the infamy of the case.

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Rich Pfeiffer, Van Houten’s lawyer (AP Photo/Amanda Lee Myers)

“If the courts don’t release Miss Van Houten, she’s never going to be released,” Mr Pfeiffer said. “The courts are empowered to make difficult decisions, and sometimes unpopular decisions, to be able to enforce the law. That’s what courts are there for. Otherwise it turns into mob rule.”

Deputy attorney general Jill VanderBorght said the issue should rest with whatever Mr Newsom decides. She said Mr Pfeiffer’s argument that Van Houten is unlikely to get released without a court decision was irrelevant.

“We’re only looking at this single instance of parole reversal,” she said. “We don’t have to think of tomorrow or ever or politics. In fact, the court should not.”

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The judges gave Mr Pfeiffer and Ms VanderBorght five days to file arguments on the jurisdiction issue. The judges have three months to decide on Van Houten’s parole.

Every year since 2016, a parole board has recommended that Van Houten be released, finding that she is no longer a threat to society. Former governor Jerry Brown blocked the first two recommendations.

Press Association

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