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Former Manson family member Leslie Van Houten released from California prison, official says

<i>Stan Lim/Pool/Los Angeles Daily News/AP/FILE</i><br/>
Stan Lim/Pool/Los Angeles Daily News/AP/FILE

By Cheri Mossburg and Emma Tucker, CNN

(CNN) — Leslie Van Houten, a former Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer, was released from a California prison on Tuesday, a prison spokesperson told CNN.

Van Houten was released to parole supervision, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Mary Xjimenez said. Van Houten will have a three-year maximum parole term with a parole discharge review occurring after one year, Xjimenez said.

Van Houten, now in her 70s, was 19 when she met Manson and joined the murderous cult that came to be called the “Manson family.”

Prior to her release on Tuesday, she was serving concurrent sentences of seven years to life after she was convicted in 1971 for her role in the killings of supermarket executive Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their Los Angeles home.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on Friday announced it would not challenge a state appellate court’s panel ruling in May that opened the possibility of parole for Van Houten, clearing the path to her release.

“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal offenses, the victims’ families still feel the impact, as do all Californians. Governor Newsom reversed Ms. Van Houten’s parole grant three times since taking office and defended against her challenges of those decisions in court,” Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for the governor, said Friday.

“The Governor is disappointed by the Court of Appeal’s decision to release Ms. Van Houten but will not pursue further action as efforts to further appeal are unlikely to succeed. The California Supreme Court accepts appeals in very few cases, and generally does not select cases based on this type of fact-specific determination,” Melton said.

A family member of celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, who was killed by the Manson cult in 1969, said he disagrees with the decision by the governor’s office to not challenge Van Houten’s parole.

“I certainly have respect for Governor Newsom and the attorney general,” Sebring’s nephew, Anthony DiMaria, told CNN’s Laura Coates on Tuesday night. “But our families strongly, vehemently, disagree with their decision not to file an appeal.”

DiMaria called Van Houten a “cold-blooded killer in one of the most notorious murder rampages in United States history,” and said her release sets a “dangerous, pernicious precedent.”

Van Houten’s attorney, Nancy Tetreault, told CNN’s John Berman Tuesday night that her client has “gone through courses to confront what she did – to take responsibility for what she did,” along with “40 years of psych evaluation” to gain parole.

“I understand why … the family members of the victims feel emotional about this and want retribution, but that’s not the law,” Tetreault told Berman. “The law says she has the right to achieve parole if she meets the standard, and the standard is that she no longer poses a danger to society.”

Tetreault said she’s not trying to prove that Van Houten is innocent, but rather emphasizes that Van Houten “has to, and has, accepted full responsibility for the crime.”

Following 53 years in custody, Van Houten will participate in a transitional housing program to help her with employment training, teach her how to get a job and support herself, Tetreault told CNN last week.

“If you think about it, she’s never used an ATM, never had a cell phone,” Tetreault said last week. The attorney told CNN she and her client have discussed the likelihood of her being overwhelmed as she transitions back to routine daily activities, such as going to the supermarket.

Van Houten will seek employment that builds on the bachelor’s and master’s degrees in humanities that she earned while in prison, the attorney said. But for now, she’s just getting acclimated.

“She said that she’s just trying to get used to the idea that she’s no longer in prison after all these decades, and just acclimate to her new life outside of prison,” Tetreault said Tuesday.

Following her conviction, Van Houten was sentenced to death, but the death penalty was overturned after California abolished capital punishment, and her sentence was commuted to life in prison. She first became eligible for parole in 1977 and a California parole board panel first recommended her release in 2016 after she made 22 appearances before the board, CNN reported.

That decision, however, was reversed five times by the state’s governors – twice by former Gov. Jerry Brown, who cited the horrific nature of the murders and Van Houten’s eager participation, and three times by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

In 1994, Van Houten described her part in the killings in a prison interview with CNN’s Larry King.

“I went in and Mrs. LaBianca was laying on the floor and I stabbed her,” said Van Houten, who was 19 at the time of the murders. “In the lower back, around 16 times.”

The-CNN-Wire
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CNN’s Natasha Chen and Virginia Langmaid contributed to this report.

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