California Governor Again Denies Parole for Manson Family Member Leslie Van Houten

Daniel Kreps

Governor Gavin Newsom once again denied parole for former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten Saturday, the fourth time a California governor has blocked her release.

Van Houten, serving a life sentence for her role in the Manson family murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in August 1969 — committed when Van Houten was 19 — was recommended for parole by a California panel in July 2020; however, just as Newsom did in June 2019, the governor reversed that decision.

In a statement that echoed his 2019 denial, Newsom stated that “evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison.”

Van Houten, who did not take part in the murders at Sharon Tate’s home, testified at her trial that she and fellow Manson family member Patricia Krenwinkel held a pillowcase over Rosemary LaBianca’s head, gagged her with a lamp cord, and stabbed her between 14 and 16 times.

In 1971, Van Houten was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders. When California briefly abolished the death penalty, her sentence was overturned; she underwent two more trials before she was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole in 1978. She has since appealed for her parole 23 times.

Decades after the murders, a parole board first recommended Van Houten’s release in 2016; at that time, then-Governor Jerry Brown denied the parole request. In January 2018, Brown again rejected the parole board’s recommendation; an appeals court in June 2018 upheld Governor Brown’s decision.

Van Houten’s lawyer Rich Pfeiffer said Saturday that they would once again appeal Newsom’s decision, even though the California appeals court previously sided with the governor. “This reversal will demonstrate to the courts that there is no way Newsom will let her out,” Pfeiffer told the Associated Press Saturday. “So they have to enforce the law or it will never be enforced.”

Pfeiffer previously tried, unsuccessfully, to have Van Houten, now 71, released earlier this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite growing support for Van Houten’s release — including from filmmaker John Waters — surviving LaBianca relatives have been steadfast in their insistence that Van Houten remain behind bars. “We all need to be held responsible for our behavior,” Leno’s daughter Cory LaBianca said in 2016. “The least we can do, for someone who commits a crime against another human being, is to keep them in jail.”

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