CHINO, Calif. (CBSNewYork/CBS News/CBS LA/AP) — One of the women convicted in the infamous Charles Manson family murders of 1969 could soon walk free.
As CBS News’ Carter Evans reported, parole was recommended for Manson follower Leslie Van Houten in a Thursday hearing.
Van Houten, 66, has spent more than four decades in prison, demonstrating exemplary behavior.
Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, argued that she presents no danger to the public and should be freed.
“She says she’s numb,” Pfeiffer said. “She’s ready for this, she’s been ready for this for a long time.”
Van Houten was convicted for her role in the 1969 murders of wealthy grocer Leno La Bianca and his wife Rosemary in their Los Angeles home. Van Houten admitted she was on LSD when she participated in the murders at the age of 19.
The La Biancas were stabbed numerous times and the word “WAR” was carved on his abdomen.
The couple was killed a day after other so-called “Manson family” members murdered actress Sharon Tate, pregnant wife of director Roman Polanski, and four others. The killings were the start of what Manson believed was a coming race war. He dubbed it “Helter Skelter” after Paul McCartney’s song from the Beatles’ White Album.
Charlie Rose interviewed Manson for CBS News about the murders in 1986.
Rose: “What did you think about Sharon Tate and her unborn baby?”
Manson: “What did I think about it? It’s not my world! I don’t live in that world!”
Rose: “So you don’t care?”
Manson: “Care?! What the hell does that mean, care?!”
But in Van Houten’s past parole hearings, she has repeatedly expressed remorse for her involvement.
“You can never make it right, and I sincerely apologize,” she said in a 2002 hearing.
During Thursday’s eight-hour hearing, Van Houten gave a detailed and graphic account of how she helped kill La Bianca. At her last parole hearing, she was criticized for not explaining her part in the murder.
Family members were shocked and outraged by the decision.
“I can’t tell you what an injustice this is,” said Deborah Tate, a victim’s advocate. “I have the right to speak here because family members are scared to death of these people still. I know the carnage that has happened to the La Bianca family and the extended family as generations have gone down and I come forward on their behalfs. So I can’t speak as Deborah Tate. I speak as La Bianca.”
“These are predatory killers,” said Tate. “Not crimes of passion. Not hate, no relation whatsoever. Random, break in the homes and kill folks. That’s a predatory killer.”
The commissioners agreed the crimes were atrocious, cruel, and monstrous, saying the very name Charles Manson evokes fear, evil, and danger in the general public.
But, they also said, Van Houten has taken measures to rehabilitate herself. She has completed college degrees and been commended for her behavior as a model prisoner. They say 17 doctors wrote letters, stating Van Houten is no longer a danger to society.
“The way that the parole was granted was just a dream come true,” said Pfeiffer. “The commissioners went through everything and found that there was not item or one factor that could be considered against parole.”
Ultimately, the decision will be up to California Gov. Jerry Brown. Criminal defense attorney Steve Meister said it was unlikely that Brown would approve Van Houten’s release.
“I can guarantee that Jerry Brown is going to turn this recommendation down and find a way to keep her in prison,” Meister said. “No governor who wants to protect his or her legacy is ever, ever going to sign off on the freeing of a Tate-LaBianca killer. It just won’t happen.”
Van Houten’s conviction was overturned on appeal. She was retried twice and convicted in 1978 of two counts of murder and conspiracy.
Manson, 81, and other followers involved in the killings are still jailed.
Patricia Krenwinkel and Charles “Tex” Watson have each been denied parole multiple times, while fellow defendant Susan Atkins died in prison in 2009.
Former Manson follower Bruce Davis was approved for parole but Gov. Jerry Brown blocked his release in 2014, citing the gravity of his offenses and his refusal to fully accept responsibility for his role in the murders of a stunt man and a musician.
Davis was not involved in the Tate-La Bianca murders.
A representative of Gov. Brown said it would be premature to comment on the Van Houten parole issue.
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