California’s governor announced Friday that he won’t ask the state Supreme Court to block parole for Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, paving the way for her release after serving 53 years in prison for two infamous murders.
In a brief statement, the governor’s office said it was unlikely that the state’s high court would consider an appeal of a lower court ruling that Van Houten should be released.
Gov. Gavin Newsom is disappointed, the statement said.
“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal killings, the victims’ families still feel the impact,” the statement said.
Van Houten, now in her 70s, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and other followers in the 1969 killings of Leno LaBianca, a grocer in Los Angeles, and his wife, Rosemary.
Van Houten could be freed in about two weeks after the parole board reviews her record and processes paperwork for her release from the California Institution for Women in Corona, her attorney Nancy Tetreault said.
She was recommended for parole five times since 2016 but Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown rejected all those recommendations.
However, a state appeals court ruled in May that Van Houten should be released, noting what it called her “extraordinary rehabilitative efforts, insight, remorse, realistic parole plans, support from family and friends” and favorable behavior reports while in prison.
“She’s thrilled and she’s overwhelmed,” Tetreault said.
“She’s just grateful that people are recognizing that she’s not the same person that she was when she committed the murders,” she said.
After she’s released, Van Houten will spend about a year in a halfway house, learning basic life skills such as how to go to the grocery and get a debit card, Tetreault said.
“She’s been in prison for 53 years. … She just needs to learn how to use an ATM machine, let alone a cell phone, let alone a computer,” her attorney said.
Van Houten and other Manson followers killed the LaBiancas in their home in August 1969, smearing their blood on the walls after. Van Houten later described holding Rosemary LaBianca down with a pillowcase over her head as others stabbed her, before herself stabbing the woman more than a dozen times.
“My family and I are heartbroken because we’re once again reminded of all the years that we have not had my father and my stepmother with us,” Cory LaBianca, Leno LaBianca’s daughter, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday.
“My children and my grandchildren never got an opportunity to get to know either of them, which has been a huge void for my family,” said Cory La Bianca, who is 75.
The LaBianca murders happened the day after Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others. Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings.
Manson died in prison in 2017 of natural causes at age 83 after nearly half a century behind bars.