Manson murderer’s ‘disturbingly distorted’ views should prevent her release from prison, D.A. says

A California review board recommended parole for Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted in the 1969 killings of a grocer and his wife.
(Los Angeles Times; Nick Ut / Associated Press)

The Los Angeles County district attorney has asked Gov. Jerry Brown to deny parole for former Manson “family” member Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted along with other members of the cult in the 1969 killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.

In a letter dated Friday, Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey told the governor that she “strongly” opposed releasing Van Houten, calling her unsuitable for parole and a threat to public safety.


Van Houten, 66, had been denied parole 19 times since being convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison, but a two-member review board in April recommended her release. Lacey said Van Houten continued to maintain “a disturbingly distorted view of Charles Manson.”

“She clearly lacks insight, genuine remorse, and an understanding of the magnitude of her crimes,” Lacey wrote in the letter.

“The viciousness of the murders, the relationship of those murders to the effort to incite the ‘Helter Skelter’ race war, and Van Houten’s attempts to minimize her criminal responsibility, make her an unreasonable risk of danger to society.”

Van Houten’s lawyer, Rich Pfeiffer, said the district attorney’s letter was not honest. The letter often conflated his client’s narrative of the LaBianca killings during the parole hearing with how she currently views her conduct, he said.

Pfeiffer also said that Lacey took quotes from the parole hearing out of context.

In one part of the letter, Lacey took issue with how Van Houten described Manson: as a “myth” and “caricature of horror.” Such otherworldly or exaggerated language indicated she had no understanding of the magnitude of her crimes, Lacey wrote.


According to a transcript reviewed by The Times, the “myth” and “caricature” labels for Manson came from Van Houten’s replies to questions about how other people viewed Manson or if his name “invokes fear in people.”

Lacey also faulted Van Houten for trying to “manipulate” the parole board by hiding that a psychological assessment submitted to the board came from a longtime friend.

Pfeiffer, however, said a friend of Van Houten who is a medical professional wrote a letter on her behalf and he disputed that it was a clinical assessment.

He faulted Lacey for omitting what Deputy Commissioner Nga Lam said at the end of the hearing: 17 doctors had concluded Van Houten represented a low risk to an extremely low risk of violence if released from prison.

The parole recommendation is still under administrative review until mid-August. If upheld, it will be forwarded to Brown, who has until mid-September to either accept or reverse the parole board’s decision.

For more news in California, follow @MattHjourno.


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7:37 p.m.: This article was updated with additional detail and comments from Leslie Van Houten’s attorney.

This article was originally published at 4:10 p.m.