Confined to a California prison since 1971, former Manson family member and convicted murderer Patricia Krenwinkel is now the longest-serving female inmate in the state’s correctional system.
On Thursday, the 69-year-old will have a chance at freedom when a review board considers whether to recommend her for parole.
Krenwinkel was sent to death row after a Los Angeles jury convicted her of killing actress Sharon Tate and six others in a two-day rampage intended to trigger a race war. The killings were done at the behest of Charles Manson, leader of a cult-like group living on an old movie ranch near Chatsworth.
But after the state’s highest court in 1972 ruled the death penalty unconstitutional, Krenwinkel’s sentence — along with those of other Manson family members — was commuted to life in prison.
The hearing at the women’s state prison in Corona will be Krenwinkel’s 15th appearance before the board. At her last, in 2011, the panel recognized Krenwinkel’s efforts, commending her for a clean disciplinary record, having earned a bachelor’s degree and her work training service dogs and counseling fellow inmates.
But Commissioner Susan Melanson said the barbarity of the crimes — coupled with Krenwinkel’s failure to fully grasp the global impact of the Manson killings — warranted more time behind bars.
“This crime remains relevant,” Melanson said. “The public is in fear. And that just is a fact of the crime and the consequences of the crime.”
Krenwinkel’s attorney, Keith Wattley, said he was hopeful that this time around, the two-member panel would recognize his client’s commitment to examining her offenses and reforming her behavior. He noted that Krenwinkel consistently has been viewed by medical professionals as posing no danger to society.
“With this case, up to now, it’s been the clearest example of the way in which public outcry can completely eviscerate and override someone’s constitutional rights,” Wattley said. “Some might say, well she committed a serious crime like that — you’ve given up your right to fair treatment. Well, that’s not how the law works.”
At her last hearing, Krenwinkel said she had made preparations to leave the structured environment of prison. She said she hoped to move out of California and legally change her name.
She also opted not to discuss the crime, but did acknowledge how she had changed once she met Manson. Looking back, she said, he presented himself as a messiah to whom she surrendered her “spiritual being.”
“I became a monster,” she said. “I gave up all that was good and accepted all that was bad and allowed that to be me.”
Behind bars, she said, she lives with guilt, grief and shame.
“I’m just haunted each and every day by the unending suffering my participation in murders caused,” she said. “I’m so ashamed of my actions. I am ever aware that the victims who perished had so much life yet to live.”
On Aug. 9, 1969, Krenwinkel joined the band of Manson acolytes who stormed the Benedict Canyon home shared by pregnant actress Tate, 26, and her movie director husband, Roman Polanski. Tate and four others were stabbed and shot. Krenwinkel testified to chasing coffee heiress Abigail Folger with a raised knife and stabbing her 28 times.
The next night, Krenwinkel and others killed Leno LaBianca and his wife, Rosemary, at their Los Feliz home. Krenwinkel and fellow family member Leslie Van Houten held down Rosemary LaBianca as Charles “Tex” Watson stabbed Leno LaBianca.
Both homes had walls smeared with blood, and Krenwinkel used blood to scrawl “Death to Pigs.” She later testified at trial that her hand throbbed from stabbing one of the victims so many times.
Prosecutors long have fought against her release.
“You’re talking about the brutal slaughter, mutilation of innocent people for no reason,” Deputy Dist. Atty. Patrick Sequeira said. “But beyond the horror of that alone is also the larger horror, that it was designed to start a race war, to cause even more violence. … This is really an act of domestic terrorism.”
Parole commissioners also have cited public opposition, expressed in letters from across the country. Among the chief opponents of Krenwinkel’s release is Debra Tate, the younger sister of Sharon Tate, who often attends parole hearings for Manson family members.
“Society cannot allow this serial killer who committed such horrible, gruesome, random killings back out,” Tate wrote in an online petition that has garnered more than 95,000 supporters.
Krenwinkel’s hearing is the last in a year that saw several Manson family members go before the parole board.
Van Houten was recommended for parole in April, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied her release. He also rejected parole for Bruce Davis, making it the fourth time that a governor blocked his release.
According to Wattley, Krenwinkel has two key factors working in her favor — both revolving around age.
Because she was 21 at the time of the murders, she is considered a youthful offender under a law that took effect in 2016. Also, commissioners must recognize the elderly have a lower risk of future violence, he said.
“I’m not saying the crime doesn’t matter,” Wattley said. “But it does not predict her future risk to public safety. That’s why the law requires her release.”
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