On April 16, 2016, I appeared on Fox News’ Americas News HQ (@ANHQDC) with host Eric Shawn (@EricShawnTV) and attorney Robert Schalk (@rschalk_esq) to discuss a California parole board decision to release Charles Manson “Family” member Leslie Van Houten.
Van Houten is in prison for the murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. Van Houten was initially convicted at the main Charles Manson trial. At trial, Van Houten repeatedly dismissed defense lawyers for blaming her actions on Manson’s control over her. She also confessed to a murder she had not committed in an attempt to clear Manson.
Van Houten, two other women, and Manson were sentenced to death but a year later all death penalties in the state were commuted to life imprisonment. Due to the death of her lawyer during the trial, Van Houten’s convictions were thrown out on appeal and she was granted a new trial. At her second trial, her main defense was diminished capacity from chronic use of hallucinogens having made her susceptible to Manson’s influence. The jury could not agree on a verdict.
At a third trial, she was convicted and sentenced to two concurrent life sentences.
As discussed in the appearance, while the California parole board has recommended the release of Van Houten, this decision is not final, as a parole board legal team must review the recommendation and California Gov. Jerry Brown must make the final decision.
This process is a product of our criminal justice system. Any defendant who is not sentenced to life without parole or the death penalty has a right to parole.
In California, parole suitability hearings are held to determine if an inmate currently poses an unreasonable risk of danger to society if released from prison. The panel must consider “all relevant, reliable information available to the panel” in determining the inmate’s suitability for parole. (Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 2281) Here, the parole board recommended her release after 20 prior hearings and denials.
As reported, the parole board gave a substantial amount of weight to the fact that Van Houten was a model citizen for 46 years, earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in prison, counseled inmates and ran self-help groups, and never committed any infractions in prison.
I believe Gov. Brown will reject the recommendation of the parole board and Van Houten will remain in prison. As I stated in the appearance, Brown has recently rejected the release of Bruce Davis, another Manson follower whose circumstances and history in prison are very similar to those of Van Houten. Like Van Houten, Davis was only involved in one of the murders. Additionally, Davis has found religion in prison, obtained his doctorate degree in philosophy of religion and ministers to other prisoners.
Notwithstanding these accomplishments, Brown has rejected the parole board’s recommendation to release Davis on three separate occasions, the last time in February of 2016. In a previous Davis rejection opinion, Brown expressed the belief that “the exceptional brutality of these crimes and the terror the Manson Family inflicted on the LosAngeles community 45 years ago still resonate.’
Accordingly, should this decision reach the governor, I believe he will also reject Van Houten’s parole and Van Houten will have to wait for her 22nd parole hearing.