On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom denied a request for parole from Leslie Van Houten, the former Manson family member who was convicted for her role in the grisly slaying of the Los Angeles couple Leno and Rosemary LaBianca. In a statement, Gov. Newsom said that despite the apparent strides she has made in prison, Van Houten still posed an apparent risk to others’ safety.
“Ms. Van Houten and the Manson family committed some of the most notorious and brutal killings in California history,” Newsom said in a statement. “When considered as a whole, I find the evidence shows that she currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison at this time.”
Van Houten, who is now 69, met Manson when she was 19, and immediately fell under his thrall. In 1969, she was arrested for her role in the slaying of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, a couple murdered on August 10th in their Los Angeles home. (Van Houten did not take part in the murders of Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, and two other people at Tate’s Los Angeles home, which were committed by other members of the Manson family the previous night.) She testified that she and fellow Manson family member Patricia Krenwinkel held a pillowcase over Rosemary LaBianca’s head, gagged her with a lamp cord, and stabbed her between 14 and 16 times.
In 1971, Van Houten was sentenced to death for her role in the LaBianca murders. When California briefly abolished the death penalty, her sentence was overturned; she underwent two more trials before she was sentenced to life in prison with a possibility of parole in 1978. According to CNN, she has appealed her sentence 22 times.
Because she was only 19 when she committed the murders, some psychologists who have evaluated Van Houten have stated that they believe there is a possibility for her to be rehabilitated. One psychologist wrote that Van Houten’s “involvement in the life offense was significantly impacted by characteristics of youth, including impulsivity, the inability to adequately foresee the long-term consequences of her behavior and the inability to manage her emotions that resulted from trauma.” She’s also received public support from such notable people as John Waters, who, for the 40th anniversary of the murders, penned a five-part essay on why he believe she should be freed.
The surviving LaBianca relatives, however, have remained unmoved. After the parole board recommended Van Houtens’ release in 2016 (a recommendation that was subsequently overturned by then-Gov. Jerry Brown), Cory LaBianca, the daughter of Leno LaBianca, told the Los Angeles Times that she strongly disagreed with the parole board’s ruling.
“We all need to be held responsible for our behavior,” she said at the time. “The least we can do, for someone who commits a crime against another human being, is to keep them in jail.”