By Linda Deutsch Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Leslie Van Houten, the one-time Charles Manson follower long seen as the most likely of his ex-acolytes to win freedom someday, faces her 19th parole hearing today with a new lawyer and new case law which may give her the best chance yet for release.
The entire state parole board would review a favorable decision for Van Houten within 120 days and it would then be submitted to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for a final ruling.
Van Houten, 60, is behind bars at the California Institution for Women at Frontera, the same prison where another Manson follower, Patricia Krenwinkle, is imprisoned. Susan Atkins, the third woman convicted of murder in the crimes directed by cult leader Manson, died in prison last year after parole officials denied her dying request for freedom.
Van Houten was convicted of murder and conspiracy for her role, at the age of 19, in the slayings of the wealthy grocers Leno and Rosemary La Bianca. The couple were stabbed to death in August 1969, one night after Manson’s followers killed actress Sharon Tate and four others including celebrity hairdresser Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, filmmaker Voityck Frykowksi and Steven Parent, a friend of the Tate estate’s caretaker.
Van Houten did not participate in the Tate killings but went along the next night when the La Biancas were slain in their home. During the penalty phase of her trial she confessed to joining in stabbing Rosemary La Bianca after she was dead.
Van Houten was sentenced to death along with Manson, Atkins and Krenwinkle but their sentences were reduced to life in prison with the possibility of parole when the death penalty was briefly outlawed in the 1970s.
She was portrayed as the youngest and least culpable of those convicted with Manson, a young woman from a good family who had been a homecoming princess and showed promise until she became involved with drugs and was recruited into Manson’s murderous “family.”
Van Houten last appeared before a parole board in 2007. Her chances for parole are enhanced by the fact that she has been discipline-free since her incarceration in the early 1970s, has positive psychological reports and has been active in self-help groups at the prison.
Many attorneys have argued over the years that Van Houten is rehabilitated and not a danger to anyone.
Van Houten’s new lawyer, Brandie Devall, said the cases she will cite had not been decided at the time of Van Houten’s last parole hearing. She said she will cite Van Houten’s age, her youth at the time of the crimes and her extreme remorse. “There is no evidence of current dangerousness,” she said.