Leslie Van Houten, the youngest Charles Manson follower who was involved in the cult's 1969 killing spree, was granted parole by a two-person panel in Chino, California, Wednesday, but her release depends on the decision of California Governor Jerry Brown.
Van Houten, who is now 68, was just 19 years old when she took part in the murder of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca in their Benedict Canyon home – one night after other members of Manson's cult killed pregnant actress Sharon Tate and four others at the home she shared with husband Roman Polanski.
"I feel absolutely horrible about it, and I have spent most of my life trying to find ways to live with it," she said during Wednesday's hearing, according to NPR. "The older I get, the harder it is to deal with all of this, to know what I did, how it happened."
According to court records, Van Houten tied a pillowcase around Rosemary LaBianca's head and held her down as others stabbed her dozens of times. Then, at the order of Manson's disciple Charles "Tex" Watson to "do something," she picked up a butcher knife and stabbed the woman 14 times.
She and several of Manson's fellow followers – Watson, Patty Krenwinkel and Susan Atkins – were convicted in the couple's death and sentenced to life in prison. She has so far served 40 years of her sentence; Atkins died of brain cancer in prison in 2009, and the other Manson Family members have not been approved for release.
Van Houten is not completely in the clear just yet. Following the Chino panel's ruling Wednesday, she will now have to await state officials to review the decision over the course of 120 days before Gov. Brown ultimately makes the final call on whether or not to grant Van Houten parole.
"If he rejects it, we'll go back to court," Van Houten's attorney, Rich Pfeiffer, said, according to Vice. "I'm not going away, and she's going home."
Van Houten was granted parole by a board last year, but Gov. Brown at the time reversed the decision, calling her "a member of one of the most notorious cults in history and an eager participant in the cold-blooded and gory murder of innocent victims." He also noted that Van Houten posed "an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison." Families of the victims have also opposed her release on parole.
Wednesday marked the 21st time that Van Houten has appeared before a parole board over the course of her imprisonment.