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Home ยป Ex-Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten Released From Prison After 53 Years

Ex-Manson Follower Leslie Van Houten Released From Prison After 53 Years

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Several previous bids to release Leslie Van Houten were blocked by California governor Gavin Newsom

By Bernd Debusmann Jr

BBC News, Washington

Leslie Van Houten, a former follower of notorious cult leader Charles Manson, was released on parole after serving more than five decades of a life sentence for two brutal murders.

Ms Van Houten, 73, was a 19-year old member of the “Manson family” when she took part in the murder of a Los Angeles grocer and his wife in 1969.

Five previous bids for her parole were blocked by California’s governors.

That decision was later reversed by a state appeals court.

A former homecoming queen, Ms Van Houten was the youngest Manson follower to be convicted of murder for her role in the death of a California grocer Leno La Blanca and his wife Rosemary.

During the killings – which took place just days after the murder of actress Sharon Tate and four others – Ms Van Houten held down Rosemary La Bianca while someone else stabbed her. She later also admitted that she stabbed the woman after she was dead.

Ms Van Houten’s lawyer, Nancy Tetreault, told the Associated Press that she left a women’s prison in California early Tuesday morning.

She is now likely to be on parole for three years and hopes to get a job soon, Ms Tetreault added.

Charles Manson, considered one of America’s notorious cult leaders, directed his followers to commit nine murders and hoped the killings would start a race war, called “Helter Skelter” after a famous song by the Beatles. He died in prison in 2017.

Following her life sentence, Ms Van Houten earned both a bachelors and masters degree while in prison, where she also worked as a tutor for other inmates.

After being denied parole dozens of times during her incarceration, Ms Van Houten was finally recommended for parole in 2016. But the recommendations were rejected by California governor Gavin Newsom and his predecessor, Jerry Brown.

The last time she was blocked from parole, in 2020, was ultimately overruled by a California appeals court.

On 8 July, however, Mr Newsom said that he would not block her parole this time, paving the way for her release on Tuesday.

In a statement last week, the Governor said he remained disappointed at her release, which he said was unlikely to be heard by California’s Supreme Court if the legal battle continued.

“More than 50 years after the Manson cult committed these brutal killings, the victims’ families still feel the impact,” the statement said.

Now out of prison, Ms Van Houten is expected to spend approximately a year at a halfway house, where her lawyer said she would need to learn to navigate a reality much different than when she first was put behind bars.

“She has to learn to use the internet. She has to learn to buy things without cash,” Ms Tetreault told the AP. “It’s a very different world than when she went in.”

In repeated parole hearings, Ms Van Houten expressed regret for her role in the killings and involvement with Charles Manson, later acknowledging that she had let him overpower her “individual thinking”.

“I bought into it lock, stock and barrel,” she said of his beliefs in a 2002 parole hearing. “I took it at face value”.