A California panel on Thursday recommended that Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten be given parole after serving nearly five decades in prison. After a hearing at the women's prison in Chino, California, commissioners of the Board of Parole Hearings found for the fourth time that Van Houten was eligible for release, according to the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
After a three-month review process, her fate will be decided by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who could deny her parole, a decision that can be challenged in court. Newsom has already blocked her release once and his predecessor Jerry Brown rejected her parole twice.
"As with any parole suitability recommendation, when the case reaches the Governor's Office, it will be carefully reviewed on its merits," Vicky Waters, Newsom's press secretary, said in a statement.
Serving Life Sentence for LaBianca Murders
Van Houten, 70, is serving a life sentence for helping Manson and others kill Los Angeles grocer Leno LeBianca and his wife, Rosemary, in August 1969. She was only 19 years old when she and other cult members fatally stabbed the LaBiancas, carved the word "WAR" on Leno's body and smeared the couple's blood on the walls.
The LaBianca murders came the day after other Manson followers killed actress Sharon Tate, three of her friends and an 18-year-old visitor who was slain as he was leaving Tate's home.
Parole Hearing Went Well, Says Van Houten's Attorney
Although details of the parole hearing haven't been released, Van Houten's attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, said in an email statement that it "went really well."
Pfeiffer said he expects Newsom to reverse the decision again, "but the courts will have a harder time denying a writ than they did in the past."
In May, an appeals court denied Pfeiffer's request to release Van Houten on bail or her own recognizance. His motion argued that her age put her at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and noted that another prisoner in her housing unit had been infected.
During her 2017 parole hearing, Van Houten said she had a troubled childhood after her parents divorced when she was 14 years old. She said she started hanging out with the wrong people and using drugs.
She was traveling up and down the California coast when she was introduced to Manson.
He was holed up at an abandoned movie ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles where he had recruited what he called a "family" to survive what he insisted would be a race war he would launch by committing a series of random, horrifying murders. Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence.