Manson follower says she's changed, but denied parole

Leslie Van Houten was jailed for murder and conspiracy in the slayings of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca in 1969.

CHINO, Calif. —  A parole panel refused an emotional bid by former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten to release her from prison 44 years after she participated in a notorious set of murders.

The denial came at the 63-year-old's 20th parole hearing on Wednesday, where the panel heard from relatives of the victims who were opposed to her release.

Board of Parole Hearings Commissioner Jeffrey Ferguson told Van Houten she had failed to explain how someone as intelligent and well-bred as she was could have committed the "cruel and atrocious" murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. She won't be eligible to ask for parole again for five years, but Ferguson said she could request another hearing sooner if circumstances change.

"The crimes will always be a factor," he said. "The question is whether the good will ever outweigh the bad. It certainly didn't today."

Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the slayings of wealthy Los Angeles grocers Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. They were stabbed to death in August 1969, one night after Manson's followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others. Van Houten was 19 at the time.

Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were slain in their home. During the penalty phase of her trial she confessed to joining in stabbing Mrs. La Bianca after she was dead.

"I know I did something that is unforgiveable, but I can create a world where I make amends," Van Houten said before the decision.

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With survivors of the LaBiancas sitting behind her at the California Institution for Women, Van Houten acknowledged participating in the killings ordered by Manson.

"He could never have done what he did without people like me," said Van Houten, who has been in custody for 44 years.

The ruling came after a full-day hearing at which six representatives of the La Bianca family spoke in anguish about the loss of the couple.

"Today after 44 years, your crimes still instill fear in innocent people," said Ferguson. "The motive was the worst I can imagine, to incite a race war. Your crimes were gruesome and bloody."

Leslie Van Houten parole hearing: Charles Manson followers, from left, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten.AP Photo: George Brich, File

During her comments, Van Houten repeatedly said that she was traumatized by her parents' divorce when she was 14, her pregnancy soon after and her mother's insistence that she have an abortion.

Van Houten showed no reaction to the ruling and quickly was escorted out of the room.

In her final statement, Van Houten apologized to everyone she harmed.

"I know that the pain goes on generationally. I want the victims to know I'm deeply ashamed of what I have done," she said.

After years of therapy and self-examination, she said, she realizes that what she did was "like a pebble falling in a pond which affected so many people."

"Mr. and Mrs. La Bianca died the worst possible deaths a human being can," she said.

Arguing to the board, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Patrick Sequiera said some crimes may be an exception to the law guaranteeing the possibility of parole.

"There are certain crimes that are so heinous, so atrocious, so horrible that it should cause denial of parole," he said, elaborating on Van Houten's contradictions over the years.

In response, Van Houten's lawyer, Michael Satris, said his client "sank to the depths of Dante's inferno and she put herself there by consorting with the devil himself, Charles Manson."

However, Satris said his client has totally reformed herself.

"Leslie committed a great sin, a great crime in 1969, and in that time (in prison) she has developed into the equal of a saint," he said. "Everything she does is for humanity."

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