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Ex-Manson Follower Loses 14th Parole Bid


A state parole panel Friday refused to free former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten from prison, deciding that she has not served enough time for two "cruel and calculated" 1969 murders in Los Angeles.

It marked the 14th time Van Houten, now 52, has been denied parole for killing Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Los Feliz home, murders that capped a two-day, Manson-led crime rampage that terrified Southern California.

After an emotional three-hour hearing in Frontera and an additional 90 minutes of deliberations, the two-member Board of Prison Terms panel praised Van Houten for her excellent disciplinary record and for taking self-help classes behind bars.

But panel Chairwoman Sharon Lawin said such accomplishments are outweighed by other factors, among them Van Houten's need for "continued therapy to further understand the enormity of the crime and its impacts on the victims."

Lawin said Van Houten would pose "an unreasonable risk of danger to society" if released.

Van Houten appeared frustrated by the panel's conclusion, saying that the California Institution for Women where she is incarcerated near Corona no longer provides inmates with access to regular psychotherapy.

"You just recommended something that they don't offer," she said. "But I will do what I can."

Friday's decision came just weeks after a Superior Court judge in San Bernardino sharply rebuked the parole board for repeatedly rejecting parole for Van Houten based solely on the severity of her crime.

Judge Bob N. Krug said the board had ignored Van Houten's exemplary prison record and acted in an "arbitrary and capricious" manner in deciding that she remains a threat to public safety.

That rebuke had buoyed the hopes of Van Houten's supporters, who sent 44 letters to the parole board urging that she be freed. But the state plans to appeal Krug's decision, and on Friday, Lawin took pains to detail the panel's qualms about Van Houten's psychiatric reports and other factors in rejecting her parole.

Van Houten's attorney, Christie Webb, said she and her client were deeply disappointed.

"It's very difficult to be a 52-year-old woman, a decent person, and to be treated in that room like the 19-year-old cult victim she was," Webb said.

She added that she is not sure what to advise her client as she prepares for her next parole hearing. "What can she do? They are asking her, again, to do therapy that is not available."

Relatives of the victims were delighted by the panel's action, saying Van Houten should atone for her crime by spending the rest of her life in prison.

"I was never happy about a young girl getting duped and getting caught up in something like this," said Angela Smaldino, a niece of the LaBiancas who spoke at the hearing. "But she did what she did."

Smaldino's brother, Louis, was near tears when he addressed the hearing. "Miss Van Houten should already be dead for her part in these unprovoked murders," he said. "Society has been very merciful."

Dressed in a gray T-shirt and prison jeans, her hands shackled at the waist and her graying hair in a bun, Van Houten sat calmly throughout the proceeding.

Her voice cracked as she told the board how she struggles with shame and sorrow caused by her role in the murders--and her inability to ever make things right.

"It's a very difficult thing to live with what I did at age 19 and be able to carry myself with any dignity," she said.

Van Houten, a former homecoming princess from Monrovia, became alienated from her family as a teenager and said she was introduced to Manson by a boyfriend. She said she came to view Manson as Jesus Christ and believed in his bizarre plan to commit murders and blame African Americans in hopes of sparking a race war.

"My loyalty to him, my need to please him, made me want to" participate in the LaBianca murders, she told the board.

"I'm deeply ashamed of it," she said. "I take very seriously not just the murders but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson."

Van Houten has been characterized by supporters as the least culpable member of the so-called Manson family. She did not take part in the killings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate or four others at Tate's rented Benedict Canyon home.

She did, however, willingly join Manson and others the following night when they invaded the LaBianca home, picked at random. She held down Rosemary LaBianca while she was stabbed by an accomplice and, when told to "do something" by cohort Charles "Tex" Watson, she stabbed the woman about 14 times in the back.

Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. Stephen Kay told the board that such "vicious" acts make parole for Van Houten at any time unwise. Kay, who took part in four of the Manson trials, has attended all 58 parole hearings for each of the five imprisoned murderers.

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