Op-Ed

Why members of the Manson family still don't deserve parole after murdering my sister

My sister, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered on Aug. 9, 1969. Sharon was eight months pregnant. Patricia Krenwinkel and other followers of Charles Manson broke into her home and killed everyone there in a horribly brutal manner. The next night, the Manson “family” again chose another home at random and murdered its occupants, Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. 

In a two-night killing spree Krenwinkel was personally responsible for butchering three individuals. She mutilated one of her victims with a fork and carved the word “war” into his stomach. She wrote words all over the LaBianca house with blood. She admits she wasn’t on drugs. She claims she wanted to ignite a race war — “Helter Skelter” — that she would ride out, living in a hole in the middle of the earth.

During her trial, Krenwinkel laughed about the murders and her victims. From my perspective, she has never shown real remorse. She claims she finally woke up and broke away from Manson when she heard he had bet her, as his property, in a prison card game with another inmate.

On the last Thursday of 2016, I attended the 14th parole hearing for Krenwinkel, the longest-serving female inmate in California’s prison system. She was condemned to death in 1971, but after the state Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1972, her sentence was changed to life in prison. 

In the hearing room the commissioners on the Board of Parole Hearings set the tone: Victims’ families are allowed to speak, but the hearings are really all about the inmate and her history in prison — not the crime, not those who were murdered. For this hearing, I submitted 98,000 signatures on a petition — gathered in just 13 days in the beginning of December — opposing Krenwinkel’s release. More than 10,000 people didn’t merely sign the petition, they wrote letters telling the state of California to keep Krenwinkel in prison.

During the hearing, Deputy Commissioner Nga Lam suggested Krenwinkel had possibly been suffering from something like battered spouse syndrome at the time of the murders. Experts studying every aspect of Krenwinkel’s case and all the Manson murders, including court and parole transcripts, have concluded that only one female in the group was being assaulted by Manson, and it was not Patricia Krenwinkel. Krenwinkel has had 13 previous parole hearings over four decades to claim Manson beat her, and only now has this come up as an excusable reason for brutally murdering seven strangers and an unborn child. This suggestion resulted in the postponement of a parole decision pending an investigation of facts.

I couldn’t believe it when Lam asked if Krenwinkel qualified as a battered woman. Nor could the other family members in the hearing room. This was the same type of leading question that had been posed at another Manson family parole hearing in 2016 — Leslie Van Houten's, in April. In that hearing, the suggestion had to do with brainwashing as a mitigating factor. Afterward, the Parole Board recommended a parole date for Van Houten, although Gov. Jerry Brown rejected that recommendation and the state Supreme Court refused to review his decision. Van Houten, appropriately, remains in prison.

It would seem, though, that some parole board commissioners may be trying to empty our prisons of offenders over the age of 60, regardless of the danger to society.

In Krenwinkel’s case, postponing a parole decision based on the spurious need for further investigation is a colossal waste of tax dollars. It is a travesty of justice.

Look up the word “sociopath.” You will see there is no cure for this affliction. There is no medication, no programming that can relieve it. Patricia Krenwinkel has been diagnosed as a sociopath more than once. In the controlled environment of prison, she has done well. But she is still a dangerous woman. Krenwinkel — and all the members of the Manson family — should never be granted parole.

Debra Tate is a volunteer victim’s advocate. She has represented the Tate family at every Manson family parole hearing since 1998. www.noparoleformansonfamily.com 

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