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California Panel Recommends Parole For Former Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten

Nick Ut
Former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten is seen during a hearing on Thursday before the California Board of Parole Hearings at the California Institution for Women in Corona, Calif.

A California parole panel has recommended that former Charles Manson follower Leslie Van Houten receive parole.

Van Houten, 66, has been serving a life sentence for her role in the 1969 murders of Leno and Rosemary La Bianca, part of the notorious string of slayings carried out by the Charles Manson cult over two nights in Los Angeles.

The California Board of Parole Hearing's legal team will review the case and California Gov. Jerry Brown will make the final decision about whether to grant Van Houten parole, Danielle Karson tells our Newscast unit.

"The 1969 Tate-La Bianca murders were one of the country's most gruesome killings," Karson reports. "Van Houten says she stabbed Rosemary La Bianca more than a dozen times."

Five Manson followers were convicted of the La Bianca murders on Aug. 10, 1969. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

/ Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
Susan Denise Atkins (from left), Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten after receiving death sentences for their part in the Manson family murders. The sentences were commuted to life in prison when California temporarily banned the death penalty in the 1970s.

"Then 19, Van Houten and others stormed into the home of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. As Charles 'Tex' Watson stabbed Leno, Van Houten and another woman held down Rosemary. After Watson stabbed her with a bayonet, he handed a knife to Van Houten. She testified to stabbing Rosemary in the back at least 14 more times.

"The blood of the victims was used to scrawl messages on the walls, as had been done at the Benedict Canyon home where, on the previous day, Manson family members killed actress Sharon Tate and four others."

The newspaper says the grisly killings were "part of a murderous rampage hatched by Manson in an effort to instigate a race war, according to trial testimony."

Van Houten, who was 19 at the time, has since maintained that "she was emotionally troubled and under the sway of LSD and Manson's charismatic personality," member station KPCC reported.

"I don't let myself off the hook. I don't find parts in any of this that makes me feel the slightest bit good about myself," Van Houten told the panel Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

As the Times reports, Van Houten's attorneys have "characterized her as a model inmate, earning bachelor's and master's degrees from prison while running self-help groups for incarcerated women."

The Los Angeles County district attorney opposes parole for Van Houten, and Leno La Bianca's daughter Cory has argued vociferously against it, the newspaper adds.

"Maybe Leslie Van Houten has been a model prisoner," Cory LaBianca said, according to the Times. "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."

Van Houten is "the first Manson follower involved in the Tate or La Bianca killings to reach this stage in the parole process," the AP reports. Another Manson follower, sentenced in connection to other killings, received a parole recommendation last year that the governor eventually blocked.

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Corrected: April 14, 2016 at 6:00 PM HST
A previous version of this post stated that the California district attorney opposes parole for Leslie Van Houten. In fact, it is the Los Angeles County district attorney who has voiced opposition.
Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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