Youngest Manson cult killer could be freed from jail

3 weeks ago
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The youngest member of Charles Manson’s murderous cult could be freed early from prison after the California parole board deemed her suitable for release.

Leslie Van Houten is serving a life term for her role in the gang’s killing spree in August 1969, when she was aged 19.

But the ultimate decision on whether to grant her parole will rest with the state’s governor Gavin Newsom after a review process that can take up to 150 days.

Before Wednesday, Van Houten had already made almost two dozen attempts to persuade the California Board of Parole Hearings to release her.

The board had previously twice recommended authorities should release her, but it was overruled each time by former governor Jerry Brown who, like Mr Newsom, is a Democrat.

Leslie Van Houten
Image: Van Houten pictured at a hearing in 2002

Van Houten, now aged 69, is being held at the California Institute for Women in Corona.

Manson directed his mostly young, female followers – known as the Manson family – to murder seven people in an attempt to spark a race war, according to prosecutors.

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Van Houten and several other members of the group killed grocer Leno and wife Rosemary LaBianca, cut up his body and smeared the couple’s blood on the walls.

Gavin Newsom
Image: California's governor Gavin Newsom will ultimately decide if she can be freed

She was originally sentenced to death over the fatal stabbing at the pair’s Los Angeles home but her conviction and sentence were overturned after an appeal.

She was then retried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1978.

The murders happened a day after other Manson followers killed pregnant Sharon Tate, the actress wife of director Roman Polanski, and four other people in Los Angeles.

Updated Charles Manson Photo Released
Image: Charles Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital

In Mr Brown’s most recent decision to block Van Houten’s parole last January, he acknowledged her young age at the time of the crime, her four decades of good behaviour as a prisoner and her abuse at the hands of Manson.

But he added: “These factors are outweighed by negative factors that demonstrate she remains unsuitable for parole.”

Mr Brown claimed she still laid too much blame on Manson for the killings.

Earlier this month, reports said the board recommended another Manson follower Robert Beausoleil for parole.

The 71-year-old has served nearly half a century in prison for the 1969 killing of musician Gary Hinman.

Mr Newsom has not yet revealed his decision in that case.

Manson died in 2017 of natural causes at a California hospital while serving a life sentence.

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