California Governor Gavin Newsom has decided not to contest an appellate court's ruling that granted parole to Leslie Van Houten, a former follower of Charles Manson. Erin Mellon, the communications director for the Office of the Governor, expressed disappointment in the Court of Appeal's decision but stated that further attempts to appeal the ruling were unlikely to succeed.
Mellon noted that the California Supreme Court only accepts appeals in a limited number of cases and typically does not base its selection on fact-specific determinations like this one. In May, a panel from California's 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a split ruling that reinstated a grant of parole for Van Houten, overturning a previous decision by Governor Newsom to block her release.
Van Houten, now 73 years old, has been serving a potential life prison sentence for her involvement in the brutal murders of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca more than five decades ago. Associate Justice Helen I. Bendix, who authored the majority opinion, emphasized Van Houten's remarkable rehabilitation efforts, remorse, realistic parole plans, support system, positive institutional reports, and the fact that she had received four successive grants of parole.
Bendix stated that Van Houten's unchanging historical risk factors did not demonstrate any evidence that she posed a current danger or was unsuitable for parole.
Governor's Reversals on Van Houten's Parole
The state parole board had initially recommended parole for Van Houten in November 2021, marking the fifth time such a recommendation was made.
However, the four previous recommendations were rejected by governors, including Newsom. In March 2022, Newsom blocked Van Houten's parole, citing the extreme nature of her crime and the need for her to further develop her understanding of the factors that led her to participate in the Manson Family killings.
Governor Newsom's decision to reverse Van Houten's parole grant multiple times and defend against her challenges in court reflects the ongoing impact felt by the victims' families and all Californians, according to Mellon.
Van Houten, a former cheerleader from Monrovia High School, was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role in the killings of grocer Leno LaBianca and his wife Rosemary in August 1969. It's important to note that she did not participate in the Manson family's infamous murders of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others the night before.
In May 2020, a request to release Van Houten on bail or her own recognizance due to her high risk of contracting COVID-19 was denied. The impact of the Manson cult's brutal offenses continues to be deeply felt more than 50 years later.