Manson follower Leslie Van Houten faces fight from victim's family to gain freedom

Opposition is forming for the release of Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten, whom a state board last week recommended for parole.

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey has vowed to fight against the release of Van Houten, and several family members of her victim, Rosemary LaBianca, have also spoken out.

Van Houten has repeatedly sought release from prison, arguing she was a model prisoner and expressing remorse for the 1969 killing.

In recommending release, one parole board member said: “Your behavior in prison speaks for itself. Forty-six years and not a single serious rule violation.”

The ruling will be reviewed by the parole board’s legal team. If upheld, it will be forwarded to Gov. Jerry Brown, who could decide to block Van Houten’s release.

Last summer, a review board recommended parole for Manson associate Bruce Davis, who was convicted in the 1969 slayings of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea. He was not involved in the Tate-LaBianca murders.

In January, Brown rejected parole for the 73-year-old, stating that “Davis' own actions demonstrate that he had fully bought into the depraved Manson family beliefs.”

LaBianca's family members hope Brown will make the same decision in Van Houten's case. Rosemary LaBianca was killed alongside her husband, Leno LaBianca, in their Los Feliz home.

“Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner,” said Cory LaBianca, Rosemary LaBianca's stepdaughter.  “But you know what? We still suffer our loss. My father will never be paroled. My stepmother will never get her life back. There’s no way I can agree with the ruling today.”

"What type of decision has the parole board actually made? They're making a decision to allow a murderer to come back into your neighborhood, my neighborhood. Last time they were in my neighborhood, they killed my family," the LaBiancas' grandson, Tony LaMontagne, told CBS News. 

Louis Smaldino, another family member, echoed that view.

"The Manson family are terrorists, albeit homegrown," he told the Associated Press. "They're long before their time. What we're seeing today, these people were back in the '60s."

In 1971, Van Houten spoke in chilling detail about the killings during her trial. She was not involved in the first of the two Manson murder rampages, in which Sharon Tate and her friends were killed in Bel Air. But the then 19-year-old was one of the Manson family members who invaded the Leno and Rosemary LaBianca's home.

Van Houten testified that she held down Rosemary LaBianca as Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed her husband. After Watson stabbed Rosemary LaBianca in her bedroom, he handed Van Houten a knife. She testified to stabbing the woman at least 14 more times.

“And I took one of the knives, and Patricia had one knife, and we started stabbing and cutting up the lady,” Van Houten testified in 1971. (Patricia Krenwinkle was a co-defendant and a Manson family member).

Van Houten described the killing of Rosemary LaBianca, who offered anything to have her life spared.

She said she got into a fight with LaBianca, prompting Krenwinkle to go the kitchen and return to the bedroom with “a whole bunch of kitchen utensils,” including knives.

She said LaBianca kept promising not to call the police and pleaded for her life.

“And it seemed like the more she said ‘police,’ the more panicked I got,” Van Houten testified.

Supporters describe Van Houten as a misguided teen under the influence of LSD on the night of the killings. They also say she was a victim of Manson’s “mind control.”

At a 2002 parole board hearing, Van Houten said she was “deeply ashamed” of what she had done, adding: “I take very seriously not just the murders, but what made me make myself available to someone like Manson.”

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Van Houten’s attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, has said his client was long overdue for release, listing her accomplishments behind bars: earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, running self-help groups and facilitating victim-offender reconciliation sessions.

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